J. Mascis Unplugs The Dinosaur

With sarcastic stops and stutters, coughs, hoops and hollers, Dinosaur Jr. leader J. Mascis held the would-be moshers at bay, charging haphazardly through an hour’s worth of solo acoustic material at SoHo’s dingy Mercury Lounge Thursday night.

Best known for pioneering the garage-rock jet set with the distortion-soaked Bug and Green Mind, Mascis production for seminal grunge-popsters like Buffalo Tom (Bird Brain) and Tad (Inhaler) shaped a sonic aesthetic. But alone with nary a distortion pedal or amp in sight, Mascis revealed the murky emotional depths beneath Dinosaur Jr.’s signature clamor.

At once introspective and self-loathing, the 14-song set plowed through mopey territory (“You’ve got things to do/ So what else is new), Mascis’ voice transformed by the stark setting. Tugging on alternate slugs of Scotch, Heineken and bottled water, Mascis engaged the audience — some seated on the flanks of the stage scarce inches from the red vinyl chairs and lone music stand that were his only props — with little between-song banter.

Instead, Mascis whispered and croaked his friendless, loveless and hopeless lyrics while coaxing and hammering on his acoustic with full-fledged, guitar-guru authority. Coarse, staccato strumming gave way to sustained open chords as he cheesed up Carly Simon’s “Anticipation,” virtually laughing his way through the refrain. And though gems like “Repulsion,” “Blowing It/ I Live For That Look” and “Going Home” benefited from their bare-bones presentation, his dash through The Smith’s “Boy With a Thorn in the Side” was the surprise hit of the show, dazzling the few women peppered throughout the smoke-choked room.

Dinosaur Jr. bassist Mike Johnson — who recently completed the follow up to his 1994 solo debut, Where Am I, with Mascis on drums and Screaming Tree’s Barrett Martin on bass — donned a weathered classical six string guitar, hacking and hawing his way through an understated set. With his soothing and plaintive baritone reminiscent of Son Volt’s Jay Farrar, Johnson’s “Try To Save Today” and “Overland” were both eloquent treatises on meandering spirits and lost souls. His earnest tribute to the late Buddy Rich, “Life Has It’s Little Ups and Downs,” revealed the songwriter’s cowpoke roots. And with everyone from R.E.M. to Green Day cashing in on loud, fast and distorted, nothing could have been more punk.

This review first appeared on Rolling Stone Online

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