Monday, October 21, 2002

Mascis makes guitar zing

By Chris Varias
The Cincinnati Enquirer

J Mascis' way of turning a down-in-the-mouth phrase put him at home in alternative rock, a genre overpopulated with sad-sack singers who write woe-is-me songs.

However, it was never fashionable to be an alt-rocker who wails on guitar like a classic-rock axe-slinger of the first order, but Mr. Mascis has always made it work. No band sounds like Mr. Mascis' former group Dinosaur Jr., and he stands as the premier alt-rock guitar soloist of his generation.

Some of that thunderous playing was on display at Top Cat's Saturday, as Mr. Mascis put on an 80-minute, 20-song solo performance that bridged the gap between folk and metal.

Much of the show was just him, his chair, and his acoustic guitar. This afforded the crowd of about 300 the opportunity to clearly hear and sing along with lines like, "There never really is a good time, there's always nothing much to say" - lyrics (these happen to be from the song "Thumb") that are as much a part of the fabric of '90s alt-rock as Nirvana's or anyone else's.

Mr. Mascis plucked songs from all over his catalog. The show opened with the quiet "Someone Said" from Free So Free, his solo album released Oct. 8. The hushed vibe didn't last long, as he was soon into Dinosaur Jr.'s "What Else is New." With the help of pedals he recreated the recording's fuzzed-out solos on his acoustic guitar while a loop of the strummed rhythm track carried forth.

"Any requests?" he said afterwards, and that's about all he said all night. Perhaps he listened to the screams, because he proceeded with two Dinosaur favorites, "The Wagon" and "Repulsion."

Toward the end of the night he was joined by two members of Cobra Verde, one of the warm-up bands. With John Petkovic on bass and Mark Klein on drums, Mr. Mascis upgraded to electric guitar for three songs, including "Ammaring" - which featured a trance-inducing, five-minute, guitar-zan solo - and "Freak Scene."

The local group Thistle, the opening act, is similar to Dinosaur Jr. insomuch as they're a trio with an extra-large guitar sound. Thistle's approach, however, is a bit tighter than Mr. Mascis' somewhat sloppy aesthetic. Their set included a few songs from the band's two EPs plus many others from a full-length album due early next year.

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