J Mascis at The Triffid: A Gig Review

The Triffid is a buzz with ex-grungers and ex-punkers here to see grunge/noise rock veteran, J Mascis. They’ve knocked off work, quickly changed into their real retro 90s gig tee from the bottom of their drawer and made it to the gig an hour early to grab a feed. These are my people. Though 30 years my senior, I appreciate that they don’t want me in their space, and I theirs. And we all politely walk into The Triffid to watch the opening act, Mick Turner.

Inside, tables and stools litter the back of the venue, a foreign site for anyone who’s seen a trendy triple j band here. Battery operated tea candles nest on each table, paired with orange hued lights overhead create a warm, cosy atmosphere.  The arctic aircon quickly brings you back to Queensland reality though. Turner, of Dirty Three fame, stands lone on stage. He doesn’t speak into the mic, instead picks up his guitar.  It’s riddled with an overdriven echo, picking up the lightest of scratches. Turner lays down a loop of guitar chords before moving to a synth pad. Pre-recorded drum sounds play with each smack against the looped guitar. Turner waltzes back to his guitar and begins to solo.  His guitar-work is atmospheric; he’s not shredding, instead he toys with the space around the notes, using dissonance to his advantage like the best Neil Young songs.  Turner slaps his right hand against the strings, creating an echoing dissonance that’s quickly resolved with a delayed guitar ring. There’s an element of improvisation to his music though Turner has probably played these tunes one-hundred times. It’s a raw performance. Turner doesn’t sing, instead he transitions to his synth pads and toys with his library of pre-recorded beauty.  His chord work is rough and scratchy.  The woody missteps further add to the dissonant, yet beautifully raw atmosphere.  Turner steps to the mic at the end of his set, “Thanks. J Mascis will be on shortly.”

The crowd of ex-grungers move to the front.  We’ve all subconsciously agreed to keep a body’s distance between each other.  I respect that.  Those at the front peak over to see Mascis’ pedal board and start snapping some sneaky pics.  His signature noisy sound is as sort after as Willy Wonka’s secret recipes. Mascis takes to the stage amongst a short applause followed by silence.  “There’s a strong silence in here,” Mascis exclaims before rectifying the issue with a loud acoustic strum.  His Gibson acoustic is fed through his sought-after pedals, creating the signature Dinosaur Jr sound. But this time, a hollowed, woodiness is apparent, slightly separating Mascis’ solo work from that of his world-renowned band. Mascis begins with Thumb, off the 1991 Dinosaur Jr album Green Mind. No drums, no backing instrumentation, just Mascis’ guitar work at centre stage.  His signature nasally vocals are just as prevalent as on his albums.  We stand still and look up to the stage, Mascis is a deity as an aura of pink and blue lights illuminate his white locks. The set moves to Mascis’ solo work, transitioning from Listen to Me, to Every Morning to his latest work off his 2018 album Elastic Days, one of my favourite albums of last year.  Mascis flicks on the noise with one heavy stomp of his pedals.  Suddenly the gentle strums of the acoustic guitar transitions to the noisy, cacophonous solos Mascis is known for in Dinosaur Jr.  He pulls off some impressive guitar moves as he bends notes and shreds on his acoustic guitar as if it was his Jazzmaster.

The set is a collage of Mascis’ long career, spanning through Dinosaur Jr tracks and his own solo material.  The set becomes noisier as it continues, Mascis shreds without batting an eyelid, without breaking any sweat.  It’s second nature for the rock veteran. Or maybe he’s feeling the arctic level air-conditioning too.  See You At The Movies is a standout for the younger audience members, myself included; obviously the J Mascis entry point for many attendees.  His quiet demeanour is the exact opposite of his guitar work.  It’s technical, noisy and abrasive, contrasting against the cleverly catchy chord progressions he writes. 

As the set ends, the audience file out with the understanding that Mascis is still at the height of his game.  His song-writing chops rival that of the best folk artists, and his noisy guitar work shows why he was one of the pioneers of grungy noise rock.  We walk out with that solidified in our mind.  But we already knew that walking in, didn’t we?

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