J Mascis at World Café Live, Philadelphia, PA, March 23, 2011 | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
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J Mascis

J Mascis at World Café Live, Philadelphia, PA, March 23, 2011, March 24th, 2011

Apr 05, 2011 Web Exclusive
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Seeing J Mascis play live is traditionally a loud affair. In fact, this reviewer can remember one particular club date a few years back with the reformed Dinosaur Jr. where the show was significantly delayed due to the malfunctioning of one of about nine towering amps that Mascis had set up directly behind him. The man is unquestionably a guitar master, but his craft has historically been defined as much by the volume of its delivery as its expertise and precision. Which is why the occasion of Mascis' first solo album of new material, the largely acoustic Several Shades of Why, and its accompanying tour, is such a big deal. It has been 15 years since Mascis' last acoustic project, Martin + Me, an album that collected acoustic reworkings of Dinosaur Jr. classics and occasional covers. But that work only hinted at the potential that Mascis could deliver with an acoustic guitar. This year's album and tour realize that potential better than many could have expected.

Playing to a nearly sold out house in Philadelphia, two things were apparent from Mascis' solo set. One, the man is clearly less comfortable in this setting than he is in front of speaker stacks and behind walls of noise in Dinosaur Jr. His gait was slow, ambling, and awkward as he traversed the stage to and from the chair seated lone center of the venue's relatively large stage. When he accidentally knocked over the music stand holding his notebook of songs, Mascis seemed frozen for a moment, only slowly edging out of his chair to reset his stand and book while a completely silent crowd waited in anticipation, before he muttered some apology and continued the set. Songs started and ended abruptly, and between song banter was virtually nonexistent, save Mascis, returning to the stage after the set proper and relating the story of how the previous night's performance was to have an encore, except for the fact that the crowd left. This same fate almost befell the patrons on this night, as it was hard to doubt the sincerity of a man who, saying little more than two words all night, says "Alright, that's it" and walks off the stage.

However, despite some awkward crowd-side manner, the other thing that was strikingly apparent in this context was Mascis' complete mastery of his guitar. Working with an acoustic, looping guitar lines and adding electrified solos over top, Mascis proved the consummate guitar god. Starting with the first two tracks off Several Shades of Why, and continuing through a cover of Edie Brickell's "Circle," Mascis eased himself into the night music-wise, but things heated up in quite a hurry as he dipped into his back catalog with "Ammaring," "Little Furry Things," and "Flying Cloud" from 1987's classic You're Living All Over Me. The solo context allowed Mascis to revisit later-era Dinosaur Jr. songs that were either seldom played by his newly reformed band (1993's "Get Me", 1997's epic "Alone") or tunes that the band was never able to get together to play live ("Ocean in the Way" from 2009's Farm). And crowd favorites such as encore numbers "Quest" and "The Wagon" electrified supremely.

Experiencing Mascis up close and personal, watching his finger work, seeing at point blank range the depth of his concentration and expert craft, was a true revelation. Unencumbered by noise, the vulnerability and lyrical weight of the songs also became apparent and lent a newfound depth to the proceedings, one that is typically masked by sonic onslaught. And simply seeing Mascis without his hair completely blanketing his face was proof of how open a context these shows represent for the man and his music. Looking over to the front row and seeing a high school age boy leaning over the railing and singing every word from "Get Me" was testament enough to the enduring legacy of Mascis and his music. It was a gift that he allowed such a window into his work and one that will not soon be forgotten. 

Set List:

Listen to Me

Several Shades of Why

Circle (Edie Brickell)


Little Furry Things

Flying Cloud

Get Me


Can I

Make It Right

Not Enough

Ocean in the Way

Not You Again



The Wagon



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