Notoriously laconic and perpetually laid back, it’s true that at first glance, J Mascis may not look nor speak the part of guitar god. Even in a rare solo acoustic set supporting last year’s Tied to a Star, however, it’s tough to argue against the sheer breadth of melodic and textural prowess the man possesses, all on full display at Lee’s Wednesday night. That said, the staggering technicality of his performance was more importantly reflected in the colorful melodic elements that power most of J’s work, with or without his main squeeze of Dinosaur Jr.
His well-documented ferocious guitar solos were always in service to the nostalgia inherent in most of the songs comprising the career-spanning setlist, and a couple covers (Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” and The Cure’s “Just Like Heaven”) only served to reinforce the idea that the J Mascisification of most guitar-based tracks could very well be more musically evocative than their original iterations, and rock way harder to boot. The man’s stage presence invites a reverence, rarely addressing the crowd and stuck with the kind of narcoleptic look that suggests sleep could come at any moment. And indeed, the first couple songs of the set, while performed immaculately, were quiet and pensive, culling from his recent pair of lullabye’d volume (but hey, still pretty great) solo LPs. Segueing straight from there into 1987’s propulsive Dino classic “Little Fury Things,” the distortion pedals were cranked – but only for all the best, tasteful moments! – and goddamn, we were off.
The next 75 minutes flew by, as many of the finer points of the J Mascis songbook were aired in surprisingly fleshed out form (considering the all-acoustic format), with J’s playing never less than immaculate. His timing against his own looped, sluggish chords is like an 40-piece orchestra in four fingers, evidenced most cathartic in neverending main set closer “Alone,” the lynchpin of Dino’s 1997’s neglected masterpiece Hand it Over. After 8 or 9 minutes it still felt 2 or 3 hours too short. Literally the only downside to this show was its relatively short length, which is an absurd takeaway considering the amount of shows that could stand to lose a couple tunes here and there. Plenty of people seem to think that a lot of the efficacy of Mascis’ songs comes from the brawny force of his titanic backing band, but a stellar performance like the one Toronto got Wednesday proves that a J solo revue is one you don’t want to miss. If he comes to your town, be there.
Opening the show was a solo set from J’s tour buddy Matt Valentine (of the “MV” in the eternal MV/EE). Drones were kicked out and new-ish track “Jeremiah Red” seemed like a career highlight, all sorts of melody and melancholy abounding. RIYL J.
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