J Mascis with the Black Heart Procession at Alex's Bar Last Night

The Black Heart Procession and J Mascis
Alex's Bar, Long Beach
May 5, 2011

Maybe it was unfair to assume that the crowd last night would be full of mostly men slinking towards middle-aged, wearing vintage Dinosaur Jr shirts, who knew every word of everything J Mascis has ever written, but we were mostly right. The sold out show brought out all the Mascis cultists–any band as long-running and influential as Dinosaur Jr. is going to develop a cult–and only a few young, new fans–maybe because the Black Heart Procession and J Mascis double bill made for too somber of a Cinco de Mayo party for Alex's typical Thursday night crowd.  

The Black Heart Procession opened the show, plumbing the depths of human misery with only a keyboard and a saw played with a bow. Cool, calm, and collected, they sailed through the spectre of lost loves and lost lives without offering even a single word.  

If any eardrum-crushing guitarist has earned the right to chill the hell out and put out an acoustic album of delicate folk rock, it's Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis. His new Sub Pop release, Several Shades of Why, features a less punishing side of Mascis, and was created with the help of some of his very talented friends: Kurt Vile, Sophie Trudeau (A Silver Mount Zion), Kurt Fedora, Kevin Drew (Broken Social Scene), Ben Bridwell (Band of Horses), and Paulo Zappoli (Black Heart Procession). Last night, however, Mascis played alone, and without a word he sat down on stage and pulled his guitar onto his lap.

Mascis opened with “The Wagon,” a stand-out track from Dinosaur Jr.'s 1991 major label debut, Green Mind, immediately appeasing all the die-hard Dino fans packed into Alex's. He seemed to sense that “Several Shades of Why” isn't what filled Alex's to near capacity and played a fair amount of old Dinosaur Jr. songs for his hungry audience. 

His new material was well-received, but the Dino songs always got the bigger cheers. The new stuff was only quiet in comparison to his past work–for a solo set, it still drew blood. Towards the end of the set Mascis threw in some grinding fuzz, but they were always quick flashes of distortion.   

“Well, I'm up here, might as well do an encore now,” Mascis said before playing one last song, wrapping up right around 12:30. Mascis freaks surely had a great time, but the show was not for the casual listener–90 minutes of Mascis probably felt like an endurance test to the uninitiated. Still, for Mascis fans, it was a rare opportunity to see classic songs stripped down in an intimate environment. For one last chance, catch him tonight at the Echo in L.A.

Critics Bias: Wasn't exactly in the mood for a quiet show after nearly falling asleep en route to Alex's after an excruciatingly long day.

The Crowd: A mix of your usual 20something hipsters and the older and balding.

Overheard in the Crowd: “Listening to this guy makes me want to start doing heroin.”

Random Notebook Dump: I wonder how long this guy is going to let his girlfriend's red lipstick marks stay on his cheek. Answer: all night. Totally goofy.

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