April 2, 2011
7th Street Entry
Two guitar virtuosos descended upon the sold-out 7th Street Entry on Saturday night, as both J Mascis and Kurt Vile delivered stirring, stunning sets in front of an enraptured overflow crowd. While their performances differed in both set-up and craftsmanship (Mascis played solo and mostly acoustic, while Vile's fuzzed-out set featured a three-piece backing band behind him), there was a decided mentor/protégé relationship on display between the two artists, which was especially made apparent when Vile joined Mascis for two fantastic songs during his 90-minute headlining set. [jump]
It seems that Mascis is ready to pass on whatever he's gleaned from his nearly 30-year career in the music industry on to Vile, who clearly was chuffed to share a stage with one of his musical inspirations and surely must have been taking some mental notes regarding Mascis' unreal guitar work. For rather than simply fading quietly into the musical sunset, Mascis delivered a rousing, rock-solid set filled with impassioned songs drawn liberally from his entire impressive catalog, teaching all of us in the crowd a thing or two in the process.
Kurt Vile and his wild band of Violators kick-started the night with a blistering but brief opening set, tearing through seven fiery songs in just under 40 minutes. It seemed that they were a bit delayed by sound issues which pushed back their start time, and surprised the audience by rolling right into a filthy version of "Hunchback" when it seemed they were still having some technical problems. But none of that seemed to affect the band in the least, as Vile was in good spirits throughout the spirited set, while the band sounded superbly shambolic. The relatively delicate songs featured on Vile's excellent new album, Smoke Rings For My Halo, were all given a rough, rowdy touch in the live setting, with the bristling band sounding awesomely like Mudhoney at times.
Vile also gave each track a sprightly guitar-laden coda, allowing him to add intricate flourishes while the song faded out. The engaging melodies featured on Vile's new numbers still shone through amidst the din, soaring with the help of Vile's stellar backing band as well as his own deft guitar work. He playfully gave his current hit "Jesus Fever" a sloppy deconstruction at the beginning, before taking the reigns while the song solidified spectacularly. Vile also injected plenty of his youthful urgency into a gorgeously loose rendition of Springsteen's "Downbound Train" that was a surprising addition to the set, and one of its clear highlights. Vile even echoed a bit of the phrasing and nimble storytelling of a young Bob Dylan on the stream-of-consciousness set closer "Freeway," which ended the all-too-brief set strongly, but left all of us wanting a bit more.
The Entry was jam-packed by the time J Mascis strode on stage, with just a spare acoustic guitar and a music stand alongside the chair he would remain seated in throughout the set. Mascis wasted no time connecting with the audience, rolling through a fiesty version of "Thumb" which got the set off to a strong start. Mascis kept the momentum going with vigorous renditions of tracks from his excellent solo record, Several Shades Of Why, which are as tuneful and poignant as anything from J's storied career.
Both "Listen To Me" and the title track just soared, with Mascis looping his acoustic riffs underneath his fuzzy electric guitar strains, giving these spare songs a depth and complexity that only added to the their significance. We then received our second curious cover selection of the night, a startlingly tender cover of Edie Brickell's "Circle Of Friends." Mascis explained that while Dinosaur Jr. were touring, Murph would typically be driving the van, which meant he would always get to choose the music (which most of the time was Zappa, which J said "Grew a bit tiresome"). One day Murph put in Edie Brickell, which Mascis grew to like (at least enough to cover one of her songs). It proved to be a pleasant surprise delivered faithfully by Mascis, and the fans clearly enjoyed it, singing right along with him.
The rest of the set was a healthy mix of old Dinosaur Jr. songs ("Get Me," "Flying Cloud," and "Not You Again") and more stirring numbers from Mascis' solo album, including "Not Enough" and "Make It Right," which were featured in an absolutely incredible two-song set featuring Kurt Vile joining Mascis on vocals and guitar that was simply worth the price of admission alone. From that point on, Mascis was just on fire, tearing through one incredible guitar riff after another on a remarkable rendition of "Ammaring," before slowing things down just a bit on the brooding but beautiful "Can I."
After closing the main set with a resonant version of "Is It Done," Mascis took the briefest of breaks (seriously, less than 30 seconds), before coming back out and treating us to an encore filled with classic Dinosaur Jr. tracks, almost as a reward for sticking around all night. He opened the encore with an impassioned version of "Quest" from the band's 1985 debut, before tearing into a lively rendition of "The Wagon" that made everybody's (myself included) night. As if that wasn't enough of a treat, Mascis closed the set with an ardent version of "Little Furry Things" that ended the night on an absolute high. Without the wall of distortion and feedback, Mascis proved to be just as entertaining and enthralling as he typically is with Dinosaur Jr., and put on a riveting set that proved he can still set a place on fire with just an acoustic guitar.
Critic's Bias: I wavered back and forth about who I was more excited to see, J or Kurt, and happily both delivered strong, entertaining sets.
The Crowd: A nice mix of old Dino fans, young Vile fans, and everyone in between.
Overheard In The Crowd: "There sure is a lot of hair up on that stage."
Random Notebook Dump: Even though this was one of the quieter performances I've seen Mascis put on, it was definitely one of the best, showcasing his truly spectacular guitar work, and mournful, weathered vocals.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Alexa Jones, including shots of openers Fauna, who were celebrating an EP-release on Saturday night.
Kurt Vile's Setlist:
Downbound Train (Bruce Springsteen)
J Mascis' Setlist:
Listen To Me
Several Shades Of Why
Circle Of Friends (Edie Brickell)
Ocean In The Way
Not The Same
Not Enough (w/Kurt Vile)
Make It Right (w/Kurt Vile)
Not You Again
Is It Done
The Wagon (Encore)
Little Furry Things (Encore)