J Mascis earned his godfather-of-grunge status as frontman of seminal ’80s/’90s alternative pioneers Dinosaur Jr. But on Thursday night, he earned much love and respect from the full crowd at the Hi-Dive as he shared an intimate, moving set of stripped-down songs punctuated by Mascis’ signature mournful croon and some wicked acoustic/electric guitar gymnastics.
Mascis opened with “The Wagon,” a stand-out track from Dinosaur Jr.’s iconic 1991 major label debut, “Green Mind,” a bone to the many long-time Dino fans in the packed Hi-Dive, the perfect setting for his soul-baring set. Much of the performance was comprised of Mascis laying down several-minute loops and then playing over his own intricate leads. I’ve seen other guitarists use this method of “playing with themselves,” but none as impressively as this. Mascis created something complex and spontaneous; his guitar lines were not simple rhythm parts, but melodic lines for him to weave intricate harmonies atop.
Much of the material covered Thursday night was from Mascis’ new Sub Pop release, “Several Shades of Why,” which features some impressive contributions from indie notables Kurt Vile, Band of Horses’ Ben Bridwell and Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew. Philadelphia’s Vile has joined J as the opening act and contributing player for several of the previous gigs on his current tour, but there was simple power in seeing J go it alone; wistful songs delivered with closed eyes and minimal stage banter came across as deeply personal and sadly sweet.
In classic Dinosaur Jr fashion, there was plenty of the “quiet loud quiet” dynamic to Mascis’ set: his wired-up Gibson easily parlayed between jangly acoustic lines and screaming electric solos. His meaningful set of alterna/grunge/folk created a slightly creepy voodoo vibe that was punctuated by the intermittent and inexplicable sounding of the Hi-Dive’s fire alarm. Mascis appeared unfazed, and integrated the sound into his already complex aural landscape, much to the delight of the crowd, and the likely chagrin of the Denver Fire Department. In the end, the only thing smoking (other than the stoners up front) was Mascis’ guitar.
Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.