I recently had the pleasure of fulfilling a dream; seeing a J Mascis solo set live. After absorbing hours on YouTube of Mascis absolutely shredding it on a banged-up acoustic guitar, the excitement was genuine to finally get my eardrums pounded into oblivion by the bearded, silver-haired, guitar wizard.
Having not yet heard his newest album, Elastic Days, I was ready to hear the songs in what I thought would be the best way possible. Floored by the chic, modern Imperial Theatre in Vancouver, I took a seat on a stool right next to the stage. The Imperial used to be an old Chinese theatre, but all the seats have been removed and two bars put in on opposite ends of the venue. The only remains of the Imperial’s past were the giant Chinese terracotta figures high on the walls, lit with green and purple fluorescent lights – Mascis’ signature colours.
It was impossibly loud when J finally took the stage and plugged his acoustic guitar into the massive Vox amplifier behind him. The output he managed to squeeze out of an old acoustic guitar was staggering. My eardrums were blown apart, my chest swelled with fuzz, and when he started soloing high up on the guitar neck my eyes watered from the feedback. He rushed through his set, stopping only (and often) to attend to his battered guitar. Given the sort of bi-polar inclinations of Mascis’ solo ventures: soft acoustic records followed by a live set where the folk songs morph into Dinosaur Jr. style screamers, his live show was exactly what I expected it to be by being exactly what I didn’t expect – namely loud and disorganized.
In typical Mascis style then, Elastic Days is a totally different beast from its live incarnation. True to form of past acoustic releases (Several Shades of Why and Tied to Star) Elastic Days continues with his softer side. Although Mascis emphasizes more folk to his rock, there is still plenty to enjoy here for the Dinosaur Jr. fan – especially the ones who came to know the band in the mid-1990s listening to albums like Without a Sound and Hand it Over. Both are criminally underrated albums that Mascis seems to continue their legacies on with Elastic Days.
Every song on Elastic Days follows the typical Mascis structure; a soft, beautiful guitar melody to oppose his signature drawl, followed by a guitar solo with an emotive output that could register on the Richter Scale. Each song fades into the next and it’s easy to get lost in the album and repeat through it over and over again. It’s perfect morning coffee music. Some songs on the album really stick out, and make you head-bang or at the very least, nod along. Songs like “See You At the Movies” and “Sky Is All We Had” are great little jammers that feel like a strong continuation of past efforts.
Will Mascis’ formula ever get old? Will there ever be a time when I put on a new Mascis album and feel bored? Like I’ve heard it all before? J Mascis has been performing since the mid-1980s and releasing solo records (if you count 1990s Dinosaur Jr) since the mid-90s. As a fourteen-year-old, I picked up a copy of Thrasher Magazine that had a feature on Beyond and his tunes have been pumping into my cranium ever since. Sometimes his songs (and live performances) can pass into “don’t give a fuck” territory – but I can easily forgive this as it’s the last vestige of a punk-rock attitude that we could all use a little more of today. I say keep the tunes coming.