Friday, October 17, 2014

J Mascis at the Bowery Ballroom

J Mascis (born Joseph Donald Mascis, Jr.) in 1982 formed and played guitar in the hardcore punk band Deep Wound while attending high school in western Massachusetts. Deep Wound broke up in mid-1984 and, as Mascis' interest in music had expanded, he formed a very short-lived band called Mogo which, according to Mascis, was designed to play "ear-bleeding country." By late 1984, Mascis formed an alternative rock trio Dinosaur, later renamed Dinosaur, Jr., with bassist Lou Barlow, who had played in the previous two bands, and drummer Emmett Patrick Murphy, or "Murph." The line-up changed several times, the band split and reunited, and Mascis recorded solo albums and played in other side bands over the years. His most recent solo album, the acoustic Tied to a Star, was released on August 26.

At the Bowery Ballroom tonight, Mascis performed solo, seated on a stool, singing in his trademark creaky voice, switching between acoustic guitars and stepping on an array of foot pedals for distortions, effects and loops. This avenue showcased a very different Mascis. Contrasting the roaring, blasting rock guitarist of Dinosaur, Jr., this solo artist was a country-ish front-porch picking Mascis. Beginning with "Listen to Me," a song from an earlier solo acoustic album, the evening's catalogue continued in mixed order with five songs from Mascis' new solo album, seven acoustic renderings of songs originally recorded by Dinosaur, Jr., one song originally recorded by one of Mascis' side projects, J Mascus + Fog, and two cover songs, Mazzy Star's "Fade into You" and the Cure's "Just Like Heaven." The net result was the presentation of a less-than-celebrated facet of the renowned guitarist and songwriter. Indeed, he is a wizard at the six string guitar, even a hollow body Martin. He is expert at manipulating unimaginable sounds from these guitars through electronic gimmickry. His folky approach revealed a more subtle interpretation of his lyrics. Even his somewhat rigid position on a stool brought more focus to his intentions. Talented? Extremely. Able to sustain audience interest? Questionable. Mascis did not command full audience attention through his hour-long set. The audience listened and applauded generously, but this was a bar, not a concert hall, and there was an enormous volume of conversations going on in the room. Mascis' acoustic set was a commendable diversion for fans only. It is safe to guess that his audience would have roared if he had strapped on an electric guitar and brought out a band after the acoustic set.

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