As the crowds form an orderly queue inside the confined stairwell at Belgrave Music Hall, Leeds, it looks to be an eclectic mix of music fans; from the ones who weren’t even born when Dinosaur Jr was tearing it up in the early to mid 90’s, to the ageing group more than familiar with J’s back catalogue, who have been there and got the t-shirt.
I could feel the anticipation in the air and I was looking forward to seeing the indie rock hero in action again. The last time I saw him live was in 2015 at Brudenell Social on the Tied To A Star tour, where he was his usual charming miserable self with little communication with the audience, letting the music speak for itself.
First on the bill tonight is Philadelphia singer-songwriter, Rosali Middleman. Whilst I’m not familiar with her work, having J’s seal of approval as an opener was enough for me and I was looking forward to hearing her.
Rosali walks out wearing a long black evening gown, picking up her red Fender electric guitar she quietly introduces herself as she eases into the first song.
As her set continues she runs through her collection of contemplative rock songs that are seeped in heartache and vulnerability, swaying from side to side as she delivers her psychedelic folk rock with sincerity.
The emotion in her voice draws the audience in and everyone seems caught up in their own thoughts as they soak it up, letting the music guide them. In her diminutive voice she says “thanks for having me” and finishes her short but beautiful set.
Most of her set list included tracks from her second solo album, Trouble Anyway, released last year and it’s safe to say she’s gained a few more fans tonight.
As the time gets ever closer, everyone inches forward to secure their positions and rest against the stage. Looking around the venue, it’s certainly filled up in the last ten minutes and there’s barely any room to move around.
Although I adore the craftsmanship and layered instruments of J Mascis’ albums, there’s a lot to be said for the live stripped back versions. One man and his acoustic, albeit using a vast array of effects which J builds a wall of sound with.
A subdued Mascis walks out wearing his trademark baseball cap and Mishka eyeball t-shirt, picks up his acoustic, says “Hi!” and launches into the classic Thumb, way back from Dinosaur Jr’s Green Mind album, which opens up with the great line “There never really is a good time, there’s always nothing much to say.”
It’s a nice surprise to see J standing as opposed to his usual seated position for his solo shows; you definitely get a better view of him in action without having to navigate through the crowd to find a vantage point.
Everything She Said is up next followed by the broken and fragile vocal tones of Listen To Me. Besides his solo material, Mascis also lays into more Dinosaur Jr such as the brilliant Out There which ends with a stomp on his overdrive pedal, J unleashing a solo dripping with technical excellence and fretboard wizardry.
J is a man of few words, I personally find his limited banter dry and humorous and I also love the fact he doesn’t have an act. To coin a phrase from the movie Singles, “Not having an act, is his act”. His loose and casual demeanour feels like you’re watching a friend jam a few songs at a party.
Elastic Days and new crowd favourite See You At The Movies are up next as he works through his set list. Drifter from Tied To A Star album follows; this is a great instrumental song and a nice little interlude which J cuts loose the shackles of his singing duties and just rocks out.
With that, he puts his guitar on the stand and leaves the stage without muttering a word. A mere 20 seconds later he returns uttering “Thanks for sticking around”. This raises a wry smile amongst the crowd as he’s not even given people the chance to realise he’d walked off in the first place.
With that he breaks into a rendition of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven which is received to great applause and raptures of singing. He completes the evening with the brilliant Fade Into You by Mazzy Star, after which he walks off for the final time.
I get a tap on the shoulder from one fan asking, “Did he play Freak Scene?” “No, I said, I think that’s it, he’s done”!
Photography & Live Review by Mark Bromham of J Mascis at Belgrave Music Hall & Canteen, Leeds on 11th May 2019. Mark has his own great photography website right here: https://howayman.photography .