The Gig: J Mascis with Kurt Vile and The Violators opening (part of Canadian Music Fest 2011)
Where: The Great Hall, Toronto, Ontario
When: Friday 11 March 2011
In One Word: Wizardly
Having prepared more than adequately enough for a J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr) solo concert – a few beverages together with some ‘other’ indulgences – I was feeling amiable and easygoing enough to give support artist Kurt Vile a second chance. I had not so fond memories of Kurt Vile’s set last year at the Opera House, in what was an otherwise excellent gig. But I hear Kurt Vile occasionally when I listen to my favourite American indie internet stations KCRW and KEXP and in those small doses I do find his music agreeable enough. Or at least I don’t ‘tune out’. So maybe I’d just saw a bad Kurt Vile set last time? Sorry, no. For a moment it seemed like that might have been the case, because tonight at The Great Hall I was digging Kurt Vile’s set… or at least for the opening two songs or so … then slowly the constant droning vocals and lumbering pace of it all began to bite hard. And the effects of those pre-show indulgences had worn off. Things quickly became monotonous. I mean would it bloody kill you to change the tempo for just one song?! Vile has a totally disinterested stage presence which doesn’t help matters either.
Honestly Kurt Vile on the radio? Sure, why not. On record? Probably good too, in the right moment and small doses. But live? Well I heard plenty of token responses of “awesome” among those who went outside for air after Vile’s set, but I have to disagree completely. Boring set. And I wasn’t alone in coming to this conclusion but this time Kurt Vile escaped the heckles of “you suck!”, although he did remember and gag about that incident from his last show in Toronto. Fair play. But my teetotal drummer friend, who pre-show had been talking Kurt Vile up, came to the conclusion: “This is why sobriety sucks!” Intoxication should not be necessary to make a live performance tolerable.
J Mascis on the other hand was great. Sure it was still a very mellow vibe but this was a lot more enjoyable. Mascis sat down the whole time but while his stage presence was totally inactive, the music was a great deal less sedentary than that of Vile. Mascis has a huge catalogue of solo and Dinosaur Jr material to choose from, and I’ll forgive myself for not recognizing many of the songs played tonight given that Mascis has been performing live since before I was born. It was a very different experience to the loud and electric shows that he puts on with Dinosaur Jr and as he performed tonight with an acoustic guitar he fully displayed his talents as both a seminal guitarist and as a singer, whose voice now more than ever had a folky old-soul charm to it, reminiscent of Canada’s own Neil Young. The grandeur of the Great Hall and the Wizard Whitebeard appearance of Mascis no doubt adding to that vibe. And of course because it is J Mascis there was also a bit of effects pedal trickery going on, albeit more subtle given the acoustic nature of the show, but loop and delay pedals were employed particularly well to allow Mascis to back himself live with an extra layer audio doubles of himself. Such wizardry.
This time the reaction among the Great Hall was totally unanimous, even including this dour Scot: awesome.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice
Pictures of J Mascis at The Great Hall:
Internet links: J Mascis