Monday, 17 May 2010

J. Mascis and the Fog
W/ Dead Confederate and Midwich Cuckoos
Moho Live 7/12/2009
Rating: 5/5

Perhaps surprisingly given the headline act tonight, possibly the oldest band of the lot is the opener, Midwich Cuckoos. As they worked their way through a fun and reasonably lively set, I couldn’t help thinking they had arrived about twenty years too late (not that this has ever stopped the legions of Stone Roses/James/Oasis imitators in Manchester). Their familiar early 90s sound reminded me of the first James albums, and when they announced “thanks, this is the one year anniversary of our reunion after eighteen years” my brain quickly did the maths: 18+1… aha.

After an excruciatingly long interval, the guys from Dead Confederate took the stage. It is fair to say that I’ve been looking forward to this set for quite some time, and I was definitely not let down. Hardy Morris’ vocals were initially a little too quiet, but once he hit his stride (just in time for single ‘The Rat’), the band’s sound finally took off.

In spite of the energy with which they played, it was at some times clear that solid stage presence aside they are a lot less melodic live than on the record. Perhaps this is something attributable to their recent tour with A Place to Bury Strangers, or maybe it’s a conscious sacrifice to the God of Raw Power. The lead guitar parts were often a bit muddy and indistinct, though I suspect this was more to do with the venue’s sound system and rented amps than Walker’s fretting. After storming through a longer number and rockers ‘Goner’ as well as highlight ‘Heavy Petting’ (“HEEEEAAAAAVVVVVYYYYYY… PETTINGGGGGG!!” screeches Hardy to introduce the tune), DC were done, and few fans heavier into the bargain.
With a working knowledge of Dinosaur Jr., but wholly ignorant of his post-Dino career, I didn’t know what to expect from J. Mascis. After seeing Joe Lally a couple of weeks ago, I was sort of prepared for something a little bit obscene and ‘experimental’. No matter, I can dig, but if I’m in for an hour of feedback, how do DC fit into this line up?

The answer, of course, is that J. Mascis and the Fog actually play highly melodic classic rock-influenced pieces that are, to my ear, almost Pearl Jam-like at times. A poor comparison, but what I mean to say is that the proto-grunge fuzz is still there. So why five out of five then?

In the three interviews I’ve done, each time I’ve asked ‘what was the best show you’ve ever played?’ and only once got a straight answer. I’m beginning to think that a great show is not only at the audience’s discretion, but entirely based on their perception. Like a record, a show is more about the listener than the band. Consequently, whether he knew it or not, J. Mascis was putting on the show of his life. I can’t quite explain why it was so earth-shatteringly brilliant. The music was at times very simple, primary chord based fare; the lyrics were universal and hit the standard bases of girls, love and rock n’ roll, but somehow it was all so much more than the sum of its parts. For me, there was a nostalgic quality to the music even though I’d never heard any of it before. It was honest and LOUD, and the long solos were played with such an incredible grasp of melody that they were utterly transcendent. Their music gave you the feeling that ‘everything is going to be all right’, something I don’t think I’ve felt since I saw The Flaming Lips three years ago. They were what Lester Bangs called “righteous”, a quality that derives from being “informed of hope” rather than “merely sprawling in the muck yodelling about what a drag everything is.” Somehow what the Fog managed to do was capture what Joe Lally called the “link to the infinite” that reminds us why music is the greatest thing around. Another night they might not have, so that’s why I’m glad I was there. 

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