"I Thought You Might've Gone Home Already:" J Mascis and Kurt Vile at the World Café Live

J Mascis
Kurt Vile & The Violators
3.23.11
Philadelphia, PA

I wrote the following down on my notebook when I got into the World Café’s basement theater:

“Got here early enough for merch + lager.”

There is some delight in standing bar side, watching the night’s patrons spill into the venue while attempting to figure out the crowd in order to determine the type of fan J Mascis can still attract. Obviously, some of the crowd that night were donning the parent outfit, having long ago let their nose holes heel and likely traded their Docs for Nikes and their dreds for baseball caps. Others were plaid-clad and horn-rimmed, PBR in hand and iPhones ablazin.’ Mascis, as prolific and iconic as he is, still matters to a great deal of people, generation gap be damned, so the intimacy of the World Café was just about perfect.

Kurt Vile is under that hair
Mascis and Kurt Vile, the Philadelphia local gaining some press for his latest album, Smoke Ring For My Halo, (it gained Pitchfork's seal of approval, don'tcha know?) would both periodically appear on stage long enough to consider some set-up, shift a microphone or talk to a roadie. They would both then quickly walk out of sight. The handful of people standing arbitrarily in front of the stage seemed not to notice. The music that was playing overhead before showtime was some weird muzak-ish reggae and I’m pretty sure one of the songs was a cover of “Whatever Lola Wants.”

Enduring the reggae and observing my company, 8PM rolled around quickly and Kurt Vile, along with his backup band, The Violators, emerged an unkempt collective of hanging hair with instruments peeking out from underneath. Vile was polite to the crowd, but short on banter, mostly because the echo effects employed on his microphone didn’t allow for much articulation. He’d come up with stuff like, “This song is about a monkey.” Or, “You guys having a good weekend?” It was a Wednesday night, and when he realized that, (and I did hear a few people say, “huh?”), he followed with the redemptive response, “Ha… Wednesday.” We laughed.

The amplification was thick and the chords were pure sludge. Vile was loud but decent. I got a sense of nostalgia watching him, as if I were witnessing Dinosaur Jr. Junior, The Violators generating enough noise and thrust to recall the days of the uncomfortable 90s rock persona. Not that Vile and his cohorts struck me as particularly self-conscious or cavalier, but his face was almost always hidden beneath that bail of hair he carries on his head, hands and arms sticking out like he was attached to a hooded cloak.

Response was very good. The World Café was tight with human padding by the time Vile and his band exited. By 9:05PM, Mascis was on and applause ensued.

J Mascis: "Hippie Santa"
Mascis sat in front of a microphone and music stand, hunched over his guitar. His white hair was a veritable “horse of another color” as the overhead lights slowly transitioned from yellow to red to green to blue and so on. He began with “Listen To Me,” the first song from his new solo album, Several Shades Of Why. When he finished he said, “Guess I’ll move along to the second song on the album,” which was a very beautiful rendition of the album’s title track. He followed that with a cover of Edie Brickell’s “Circle Of Friends.”

Though acoustic initially seemed the theme of the evening, Mascis would routinely transition into distortion for solos and, at times, rhythm. He’d record basic loops so he could work with the intricacies of the fretwork, keeping songs relatively whole and remaining attentive to whatever music was facing him, which often went beyond his solo album. At times, he would also take advantage of the loops so he could grab a drink of water, a move that humored the audience on more than a couple occasions.

As far as material, Mascis incorporated a good amount of Dino songs along with some of his J Mascis and The Fog output. “Get Me” was particularly beautiful, Mascis’ vocals effortlessly projected and perfect.

About ten songs in, Mascis announced, “I’d like to bring up Kurt Vile. He played on my album.” Vile walked onstage wearing a jacket. Looking at him, Mascis joked dryly, “I thought you might’ve gone home already.” A mass of iPhones arose from the crowd to record the collaboration. Years ago, they'd have brandished Zippos.

Mascis mid-strum.
Seeing the young Vile and the iconic Mascis play together, you did get the impression that some mentoring and creative nurturing may have been at play. There was also, though, a sense of shared respect. It would be easy for someone as reputable as J Mascis to act top dog and outshine his much younger counterpart, but they shared even ground as peers on that stage. Contemporaries. Vile aided Mascis in performing “Make It Right” and then “Not Enough.” Before Vile left the stage, he told Mascis, “See you tomorrow.”

“Ocean In The Way” from Dinosaur Jr.’s last album, Farm, followed along with “Not You Again.” He dialed up the reverb to a colossal drone for The Fog song, “Alone,” sort of crushing the crowd before ending his set.

Naturally, as is usually the case, not even five minutes went by before Mascis rejoined us for his encore.

Before he began, Mascis told a quick story about playing the night before while he was in Vermont. “I came back out for the encore,” he said, “and everyone left.” People laughed. “Which was fine with me,” he added.

He played “Quest” and then Dinosaur Jr.’s “The Wagon.” Once he was finished, he bid us a good evening and walked offstage. Some of the crowd tried stomping in place to see if another encore could be negotiated, but the lights went on. People worked their way out of the basement and out into the cold, wet Philadelphia air.



Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

P.S. — I'd like to extend some gratitude to "PILGRIMSPROGRESS" on YouTube for recording clips of the show.  
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