Review: J Mascis live at the Imperial Theatre

J Mascis live at The Imperial Theatre in Vancouver, BC, November 7th, 2018, with special guest James Elkington
J Mascis live at The Imperial Theatre

Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis previewed his new solo album, Elastic Days, at a scorching solo “acoustic” tour kick-off at the Imperial in Vancouver last night (November 7). Even with a new album due two days later via Sub Pop, he gave no fucks and did what he wanted – in the best way possible.

James Elkington opened the night with his own solo set. The purely acoustic finger-picking master has performed alongside folk greats including Richard Thompson, Jeff Tweedy, and Steve Gunn, so Vancouver was in for a display of immaculate skill. The British-born Elkington was no stranger to Vancouver, though: It was his third time playing here this year. And each time, he had been touring in support of his debut solo album, Wintres Woma, which he released when he was 46 years old.

Musically, Elkington is a rambler in the lineage of Jack Rose and Bert Jansch. Those late greats’ influence on him came through on songs including “The Hermit Census” and “Make It Up.” The short outro on “Sister of Mine” was reminiscent of the way American primitive pioneer John Fahey could amble along a sunny melody before suddenly veering down a dark path. Whatever direction Elkington’s music took, though, he maintained a pleasantly plain-spoken sense of humour in his banter. He introduced his final song by telling the audience it was about doing acid in a small British village, while listening to Public Enemy, in the company of a cocker
spaniel.

Mascis, however, is a man of few words. Anything humorous about what he says is usually unintentional. “All right. I got a new album coming out. This Friday. Here’s one of the tunes,” he mustered before playing “Web So Dense,” the second song in his set. His introduction got a chuckle out of the audience because of how abruptly and early into the night he plugged Elastic Days. His promoting continued: “Okay. This is the first song on the new album,” he said before dipping into “See You at the Movies.” Besides his new material, Mascis also laid into Dinosaur Jr. cuts “Get Me,” “Little Fury Things,” and “The Wagon” and busted out “Ammaring” by his post-Dinosaur Jr. band, J Mascis + the Fog.

Mascis’ set was loose, matching his casual demeanour. But beyond that, he obliterated the stereotype of the gentle, smooth solo acoustic performance. There was zero finesse as he cranked the effects on his acoustic guitars. As a result, all of his songs sounded fried. He jammed on riffs, noodled, and tuned his guitar while he was still amplified. He began riffs, dropped them with no transition into anything else, and began new ones. And that was often before he got to an actual song. Even in the middle of songs, including “Get Me,” “Little Fury Things,” “The Wagon,” and “See You at the Movies,” Mascis dropped toasty, crunchy solos like an anchor into the ocean. He looped his guitar, and light reverb coated his vocals. “Heal the Star,” from his previous solo album, 2014’s Tied to a Star, dripped with so many effects, it became a psychedelic desert
excursion.

“Thanks for sticking around,” Mascis said before returning for an encore of “Blowing It” and “Just Like Heaven.” Again, some in the crowd chuckled: He’d only stepped offstage for ~30 seconds. Most fans didn’t even have time to leave the main room. But that meant no one – or very few fans – missed one final messy, discordant jam. And that was for the best.

review by Leslie Chu