Music Features

J Mascis: Live So Live

Indie rock guitar god J Mascis finally returns with band in tow for his 2003 world tour in support of his latest release, the excellent Free So Free. The trademark Mascis sound over the last 17 years may be pigeonholed as something like off-kilter punk-meets-"earbleed country music" (the moniker Mascis adopted as the title for the recent Dino Jr greatest hits disc). They are still simple songs for the lovelorn with complex arrangements and pedal-friendly solos.

Like it or not (yes it is an acquired taste to say the least) Mascis is still the man when it comes to creating love songs for the deaf, if you will, a jack-of-all instruments in the studio. And while the Soundscan sales have eluded Mascis over the years, his legendary cohorts have always known the deal. Yes it's true, after Chad and before Dave there was Kurt begging Joseph Mascis to climb behind the kit for Nirvana. It's also true that Thurston Moore wrote Teenage Riot as a campaign theme for Mascis for President of the alternative nation, and embittered original Dinosaur bassist Lou Barlow penned The Freed Pig as a scathing dis to Mascis, only to have him turn around and produce a cover of the song with his buddies The Breeders.

For a minute it wasn't clear if Mascis would ever return to rock out on the live circuit with a backing band after a van accident in Sweden during the 2000 More Light tour in which Mike Watt and driver/drummer George Berz banged up pretty good. But it was Mascis who caught the brunt of the injuries with damaged vertebrae, only to bounce back first with a lengthy fuzzed-out acoustic solo tour, and now spanning the globe again with Berz and latest bass replacement Matt Hunter. But before the van could even pull out of Amherst, Mascis' house and basement studio went up in flames two months ago. An excerpt from a note J passed along through, a fan site Mascis has welcomed as the official Fog site:

"Hey sorry to say I had a chimney fire in my house and Bob's place is completely destroyed for now. The house is structurally ok, but the studio is trashed. Most of the gear and everything is melted, black and fucked. Miraculously some guitars are pretty much ok. A '58 Jazzmaster was completely black front and back, but was still in tune, and hopefully Bob's will be back with in the year. Bob (the bulldog seen on the covers of Whatever's Cool With Me and Hand it Over) was rescued from the fire by Luisa my girlfriend. And we all got out and are ok."

Which brings us to some recent memories of the whirlwind trio blowing through the east coast, only to be chased by the biggest snowstorm in over 15 years. Catching The Fog twice in a week is a dream come true for me, even if it means making a 4-hour road trip alone to Hoboken, New Jersey. Maxwell's is a renowned spot to catch great indie rock shows. It's basically a bar and restaurant with a small back room, with a platform protruding from the back wall. Without a backstage to emerge from, Mascis casually made his way through the crowd with six-string slung, plugged in and kicked off the show with Thumb (from Dino's 1991 major label debut Green Mind), opening with a crunchy riff and eventually winding up as a 9-minute gem, a pure exercise in dynamics.

The set lists cover at least fifteen songs per show, literally covering his 16+ year career (the only albums left untouched are Dinosaur Jr's final two releases, Without a Sound and the slept-on Hand it Over.

The songs are transformed for the most part into meaty soundscapes for Mascis to pierce holes through with ol-skool shredding through a wall of tattered Marshall stacks. The same applies to fan faves such as Little Fury Things, a scorching rendition of Out There and the woo-hoo singalong of Get Me (both from 1993's Where You Been) and the misery-loves-company chorus of his latest single Everybody Lets Me Down, to Ammaring, the prototypical quiet-loud-quiet love song for the deaf. And when the trio blows the dust off of long lost classics like No Bones and the 4-minute death metal finale of Sludgefeast, the end result is purely infectious rock and roll controlled chaos.

For the encore the bassist scurried through the crowd to get more beers, while George stood behind a speaker and tinkered with the faulty Mesa Boogie amp that malfunctioned midway through the set, causing a 15-minute delay. J stood alone and delicately strummed along to If That's How it's Gotta Be (which by the way is so much different and better than anything in your CD deck right now), Matt pardoned himself through the crowd double fisting, George took his seat and the band broke loose in a wonderfully seamless, unassuming manner.

It was by far the loudest J Mascis gig I have ever attended, literally a loud-ass reminder to look up tinnitus in the dictionary and pick up earplugs for the next show in Massachusetts. After the deafening 90-minute performance I told George I drove to the show alone and assured him it was well worth it, he took a second and said RHODE Island? Do you know we're playing Boston Friday?" I said I did and would be there too. He just paused and said "Wow that's kinda cool," but tossed a glance as if I was mentally retarded.

Three nights later the too-cool-for-school Cambridge crowd packed into the Middle East nightclub, only three days after the tragic club fire in West Warwick, Rhode Island, prompting Mascis to mumble after sauntering onstage, "Uhh, we left the pyrotechnics at home tonight." With my ears still ringing and stinging 72 hours straight, crowd anticipation grew upon the opening climactic chug of The Lung, the same song he's opened with at the Middle East club basement every time since Dinosaur Jr's final tour in '97. Mascis was in rare form during this one, more so than the Hoboken show because he had more room to operate and flail his guitar around like a fucking rock and roll star.

The set list was basically the same as most of the other gigs I've read about, but the combined energy of the typically lame ass Boston crowd and J's snarl while pulling muddy chords during tracks like Little Fury Things and Same Day was intense to say the least. Also, they threw in Just Like Heaven and the crowd erupted. The only thing that bothered me was the set list read Thumb as the finale, but it was axed, even though I screamed for it for an hour straight -- which makes me more glad that I battled a blizzard to hear them open up with it in Jersey.

Of course I declined on the earplugs because I think they are for sissies and also because I am an idiot. Check out the show live in its entirety absolutely free (along with over 20 other Dinosaur Jr./J & the Fog shows) at ftp://freakscene:[email protected]/boots (the guy you hear screaming like a lunatic during the guitar solo on The Wagon - that's me).

As one member sums up the mighty Mascis experience in the live setting, "90 minutes with The Fog - there is nothin' better. It'll drown out the sounds of a nagging girlfriend, help you forget about your ex and temporarily eliminate everyday stress."

True indeed. Now someone please answer that goddamn telephone.