So many times I've seen a guitarist at a show and
come away thinking, man, that guy/gal is incredible - it can't get
any better than that. Then I see someone like J Mascis, a man who is
regularly ranked among the top guitar players of all time, and I'm
reminded what a truly incredible guitar performance sounds like.
I was worried about seeing the Dinosaur Jr.
frontman at what was I assumed was a solo acoustic gig. Why would I
want to see the renowned fuzz-slinger strumming away like James
Taylor? I guess it works for Neil Young. Thankfully it was largely a
moot point: Mascis brought his fuzzbox with him. And his Marshall.
A quick tap of the foot pedals and you'd think he was wielding his
Mascis's setlist was primarily made up of songs
from his new solo album, Tied to a Star,
plus some Dinosaur Jr. covers, including "Out There," the
standout lead track from 1993's Where You Been.
There was a beautiful version of Mazzy Star's "Fade Into You"
thrown in toward the end that served to highlight Mascis's
distinctive, fragile vocals.
At the end of the
set Mascis, like so many performers at Club Cafe before him, realized
it's next to impossible to walk backstage and then back out again for
an encore. So he just walked to the end of the stage, made a quip
about playing more because there was nowhere for him to go, and asked
if there were any requests. (Some joker yelled out for Sebadoh.) He
ended up closing on a cover of the The Cure's "Just Like
Those in the
sold-out crowd, who had dropped $50 a pop for the chance to see the
indie rock legend in such an intimate venue, left talking like it was
worth every cent.
Minus the Bear kick off their Lost Loves & Beer Commercials tour at Club Cafe in Pittsburgh. All photos (c) PMR.
Only a few hours before the start of their new
tour, Minus the Bear announced via Twitter that their longtime
drummer, Erin Tate, wouldn't be joining them on the road. He'll be
back, they say, but in the meantime his drum tech, Kiefer Matthias,
will fill in. It could be seen as a bit dishonest to drop this on
fans moments before the tour begins, well after most people already
purchased tickets to see what was presumably the full lineup.
Nevertheless, Kiefer, who looks about half the age of the rest of the
band, acquitted himself well. If you aren't a longtime Minus the Bear
fan who can recognize and name each of the members, you probably
wouldn't have noticed a difference.
The only mention of the lineup change came after
the second song, “Let's Play Clowns,” when lead singer Jake
Snider, after saying how nice it was to be back in Pittsburgh, said
simply, “this is Kiefer.” The rest of the set had all the energy
and enthusiasm you'd want from a band's first night back playing
together, but without any of the sloppiness you might expect. After
more than a decade together its no surprise that the veteran band
wouldn't waste any time getting back to form.
The sold-out crowd, who all paid $35 for the
privilege of standing inches from one of their favorite bands, was
ecstatic. The first six songs followed the track listing from the
Beer Commercials EP exactly,
before launching into a career-spanning set that ended with a pair
from Highly Refined Pirates.
I think everyone there would say it was worth the extra dough to see
a band of Minus the Bear's stature in an intimate (150 person
capacity) venue. I'm just glad they didn't kill the energy with an
acoustic set in the middle, like they did last time they visited,
Atlanta, opened. Man those dudes are loud. I caught part of their set
once before, when they opened for The Sword back in March at Mr.
Smalls. Droning guitars and vocals are their hallmark. There's not
much variety in the songs, but after a while the performance, which
the crowd responded well to, becomes almost hypnotic.