J Mascis - Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK - Gigs - Reviews - Soundblab

J Mascis - Brudenell Social Club Leeds, UK

by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2012-02-20

As the singer and guitarist of the mighty Dinosaur Jr., J Mascis is no stranger to the heavier side of rock. Since forming around 1984, the band has made raucous, tinnitus-inducing solos and explosive, fuzz-drenched rock their trademark. There’s always been something calm at the centre of the sonic storm, however, and it’s Mascis’ almost Zen-like disposition that came to the fore with the release of the frontman’s recent solo albums. It’s been an approach that’s yielded some satisfyingly tender results on record but how would the new, quiet Mascis material translate live?

Before Mascis takes to the stage, Australian duo Luluc get the Brudenell crowd in the right frame of mind with their contemplative folk musings. The songs centre on Zoe Randell’s gently strummed chords and the subtle, musical interplay between herself and bassist/second guitarist Steve Hassett. The song's quietly confessional tones give the performance an intimate, conversational quality; the likes ‘Little Suitcase’ painting perfectly poised, melancholic pictures of relationships in strife. It's an understated and relaxed performance that seems to gradually win the crowd round with each new song.

J Mascis isn’t really one for onstage banter and it’s clear from the start that he wants to let the music do the talking. Long, grey hair and baseball cap in place, Mascis sits down before opening with the graceful simplicity of ‘Listen to Me’ from 2011 album Several Shades of Why. Like fellow Massachusetts musician Evan Dando, Mascis has a way of communicating a lot with very little, and the song's sparse immediacy sets the tone nicely.  

A few Dinosaur Jr. tracks get a solo reworking, the highlight being the opening track to 1987 classic, You’re Living All Over Me. ‘Little Furry Things’ always sounded melancholic under all the fuzz and noise; stripped of the bands bluster, this sad-eyed quality comes into focus: “Then she runs away from me/ faster than I crawl”.

Mascis plays most of the set on an electric guitar, allowing him to hit the fuzz-pedal when a little noise is required. His trademark winding solos are still more than capable of sending shivers up collective spines.

The likes of ‘Heal the Star’ and ‘Me Again’, from Tied to a Star, display a knack for subtle, almost countrified songwriting. A change to an acoustic guitar for album highlight ‘Drifter’ reminds everyone just why Mascis is considered one of the finest guitarists of his generation; the song builds into a flurry of Eastern-indebted fret-work.

With all this solo and band material, it’s perhaps surprising that the sets highlight’s comes in the form of two well-chosen cover versions. Mascis’ reading of Mazzy Star classic ‘Fade into You’ came as a welcome surprise, it’s presence in the set perhaps signposting the kind of calm, reflective musical space Mascis wants to occupy with his solo material. The second cover comes in the encore, a rapturously received cover of The Cure’s ‘Just like Heaven’ (a song the Dinos famously covered).

There were times when a little extra instrumentation would have fleshed out the performance; interestingly its most missed during certain solo tracks rather than the Dinosaur Jr. songs. Yet whatever we lose in harmonies and occasional drums, we gain in unfiltered intimacy.

These are the kind of performances you feel lucky to attend, and it is as close as most of us will get to Mascis playing in our front room. A special performance and an evening well spent. 

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