J Mascis, Liquid Room
My first Dinosaur Jr experience was the Reading festival in 1991. I remember a sunny afternoon laying on my back in a field, listening to J send those ragged glory solos up to the skies. After that, I picked up a few of the records, but never saw him live again until now. This isn't a gig as such, but a piece of promo for the soon come new Dinosaur Jr album. So first off, we stand around for an hour listening to a playback of the record. The playback environment is always a bit strange. There's a crowd of people standing looking an empty stage, listening to a set of songs they probably haven't heard before, and clapping and cheering at the end of each one. Who are they applauding? That stage is still empty. I still get confused when people clap and whistle at the end of a movie, so this is double freaky to me. Weirdness aside, the record sounds pretty good. If you never got on with Dinosaur, this isn't going to win you over, but if, like me, you always had a soft spot for them, you'll be happy.
The J Mascis who comes on stage at the Liquid Room looks a lot different from my festival memories. The hair is still long and straight, but all over grey now. He's a bit podgier in the face, and wearing the kind of owlish glasses last seen on Jonathan King, as well as an Adidas tracksuit jacket over a Discharge t-shirt. Not a combo likely to be repeated on your average high street anytime soon. But he can still play guitar. I was a bit dubious that this was billed as an acoustic show, because, well, you know, what's the point of Dinosaur Jr unplugged?
Maybe J had the same worries. I can't see his feet, but he must have an army of effects pedals down there. There's loops, echos, delays, and massive, massive distortion, all coming from this middle aged man sat on a plastic chair with a wooden guitar. He doesn't speak much to the audience (did he ever?), but just rifles through his catalogue, playing the likes of "Thumb", "The Wagon", and "Freak Scene", with a ferocity and volume that give the lie to the visual impression of some old hippy campfire session. It's great.