J Mascis and Kurt Vile at Brighton Music Hall, Boston MA (March 26, 2011)
The pairing of J Mascis and Kurt Vile for a tour isn't some sudden flash of inspiration, but rather the product of connecting the dots over the last ~30 years of guitar-based music, straight back to Shakey. If you are unfamiliar with that particular moniker, it's Neil Young, and both Mascis and Vile share the love of distorted guitars fed through over-driven amps on their last breath that Young perfected with his amplified workouts, leading Crazy Horse to chomp at the bit and foam at the mouth. Mascis is best known for his virtuosity and decibel-leveling guitar work as de facto/unwilling leader of Dinosaur Jr, but as he's just released an excellent solo LP on Sub Pop (Several Shades Of Why), he took to the road with just a single hollow body Gibson acoustic guitar (and some pedals, natch).
The tour was timed with this new release, and knowing that this would be a solo show, a reasonable expectation would be an airing of most of that record, with perhaps a few songs from Dinosaur Jr chucked onto the softly-strummed pile. Instead what we got was Mascis ably murdering his acoustic via distortion pedals when need be, looping the acoustic parts and bringing home the soloing that's been his trademark ever since he pretty much popularized the resurgence of Fender Jazzmasters, along with the Sonic Youth crew. For every song off the new LP, the room was treated to an older treat as well, with "In A Jar" and "Little Fury Things" really putting an exclamation point over the evening. As Vile contributed on several tracks of the new record, it made perfect sense that he would join in on stage eventually, and about two-thirds through Vile ambled onto the stage and played along with "Not Enough" and a couple of others. It was really great to see Vile play with what can be assumed is a great influence in Mascis, and their styles meshed perfectly. One sees those photos of '60s icons like Lennon, Hendrix, McGuinn, Kantner, etc spontaneously hanging out and/or jamming together, and you couldn't help but feel the same way about this instance, albeit on a smaller scale.
Vile's got his own new record out, and it's a high water mark that necessitates a re-drawing of the hundred year floodplain levels of his career. The Square Shells EP last year showed a spotty but at times shrewdly focused effort on songwriting, and this one ups the ante in a logarithmic fashion. Though tonight's kick drum was a little boomy to the overall sound, this gig was not plagued by any of the problems that last year's show had, sound or equipment-wise. Lurching out the gate with the signature kickoff of "Hunchback," Vile seemed to rebound quickly from his loss of effects pedals and other gear suffered last week at SXSW, and his signature sound was intact. Seeing him a month ago play solo at an in-store appearance at Newbury Comics, a Violators show underscores that there's a different vibe, and some of the subtleties are lost in the guitar mix, as opposed to Vile's tightly mannered open-tuned playing on just an acoustic guitar. That didn't stop "On Tour" from being an emotional tour de force, or the single "In My Time," another solid stroke to the power alleys of the park. Judging the current trajectory of his output, it's awesomely scary to think of what will come next.