J Mascis and Luluc


My friend and I arrive at The Ruby Lounge very early, so we are able to enjoy watching the flow of the incoming crowd, with the sounds of Pavement and Sonic Youth in the background. The gig is sold out and the venue starts getting populated after 7.30. While I expected mostly survivors of the 90s (J Mascis is the frontman of U.S. band Dinosaur Jr.), I am pleasantly surprised by a very heterogeneous – for styles and ages – crowd, by the scarcity of plaid shirts and the abundance of animal print coats.

Having recently watched an interview with J Mascis set in a purple house overflowing with guitars, I was expecting a range of guitars on stage, but both the Australian support folk duo Luluc and J Mascis opted instead for an essential set of guitars and some vintage amplifiers.

Luluc start their set at 8. The singer, Zoë Randel, has a clear intense deep voice and she plays an amplified acoustic guitar. The warm tone of her voice immediately brings to my mind Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane (without the psychedelic element) and also, occasionally, the ethereal in the singing style of Sarah Martin and Isobel Campbell of Belle and Sebastian. Steve Hassett accompanies Randel with powerful bass and backing vocals, and later switches to electric and acoustic guitar. A laptop provides the drums for a few songs.

The duo’s performance is very much appreciated by the audience. I particularly like the absence of any pretentious or ridiculously wild stage behaviour: the focus is strictly on the music, and nothing else. I am slightly annoyed by the fact that Luluc’s delicate performance was disturbed by the loud chattering crowd standing at the back, although the two musicians do not seem to be troubled by it.

Randel’s voice and intense performance are undoubtedly at the centre of the show, with the guitars, including her own, creating mainly a background. She could just sing with no instruments and still enchant an audience. The mostly folk-ish set is simple, reassuring and very melodic, although Hassett occasionally indulges in some mild distortion and some twangy colouring.

J Mascis

J Mascis Photo by Ric Harris

Randel and Hassett inform us that their second album, ‘Passerby’, was released in July 2014 but that the albums have not arrived on time to be displayed on the merchandising desk for what is their first gig in Manchester.

It must be that Jefferson Airplane connection in my head, but the Luluc performance has a 1970s feel to my ears, and it comes as no surprise that Nick Drake’s producer Joe Boyd chose Luluc to cover two songs by the greatly missed singer and songwriter for the live tribute album ‘Way to Blue: The Songs of Nick Drake’ in 2013; a task brilliantly performed. Their brief but intense gig ends at 8.35, and we are now perfectly warmed up for the long-awaited Mascis.

At 8.55 the lights go down and five minutes later, with Swiss punctuality, Mascis appears on stage, alone, humming some music. As his fans all know, J Mascis (J for Joseph) does not waste words on stage nor in interviews: you need to capture his essence through his music. As soon as he arrives on stage, without saying a word, he heads towards his amplified acoustic Gibson and retunes it.

Mascis immediately targets our hearts with the graceful and intense Listen To Me, from his 2011 debut solo album ‘Several Shades Of Why’, a mostly acoustic album, a fact that surprised many of those who think of this artist mainly as the frontman of the intensely electric and distorted Dinosaur Jr. Mascis mumbles a reserved ‘Thanks’ and clearly wants to get down to further business, introducing another ballad, Me Again, the opening track from his latest 2014 release ‘Tied To A Star’. The audience is visibly pleased.


J Mascis Photo by Ric Harris

The next song is Little Fury Things, from Mascis’ favourite Dinosaur Jr. album ‘You’re Living All Over Me’ (1987), performed in a very different acoustic – yet still noisy – version. The show continues with various songs from both his solo albums and Dinosaur Jr. ones. The catchy Every Morning, also from the last album, has a distinct Dinosaur Jr. sound, particularly in the solos. It is lovely how Mascis, through the magic of his pedals, can strum on his acoustic guitar and then suddenly turn it into a solid body for the solos with just a stomp of his foot.

After Stumble, also from ‘Tied to A Star’, a very delicate song that Mascis sings in falsetto, we are gifted with a Dinosaur Jr. classic, Get Me (from the fifth studio album ‘Where You Been’, 1993). Possibly, this is the song that truly encapsulates the essence of Mascis’ absolutely unique singing and guitar playing, a mix of melody and distortion with noisy and mellow guitar riffs. On a few occasions, Mascis seems to enjoy ending the songs abruptly, leaving us all in this sort of ‘climax-but-not-just-yet’ state.

The show proceeds with the hypnotising ‘Heal The Star’, also from Tied to A Star, which expresses Mascis’ eclectic guitar style at its best, in a sound mix of Neil Young, Middle Eastern scales and even – vaguely – the India-influenced Beatles’ songs, while the sung part brings out the typical Mascis dragged voice that we love. I cannot help but feel, though, that the speakers are too loud in this venue, to the detriment of the sound quality. Nevertheless, the audience listens in raptured silence and applauds enthusiastically at the end of the song.

Next up is Dinosaur Jr.’s melancholic Not the Same, from ‘Where You Been’, followed by a beautiful, intense, stripped bare and heavily distorted version of another Dinosaur Jr. classic, Out there. The no-frills feel of this performance beautifully matches Mascis’ reservedness. Despite the lack of verbal communication, I perceive a palpable connection in the room.


Luluc Photo by Ric Harris

Mascis continues with a cover of Mazzy Star’s haunting Fade Into You, recorded in 2013 for Keep (a cruelty-free vegan-friendly shoe company), the proceeds of which went towards the humanitarian efforts of the Hindu spiritual leader Mata Amritanandamayi, also known as Amma. Next up are an acoustic version of Dinosaur Jr.’s The Wagon, originally released as a single in 1990 and then included in the 1991 album ‘Green Mind’, followed by Not You Again.

Mascis concludes the set with his usual cover of The Cure’s Just Like Heaven’. Robert Smith claimed this
is his favourite cover of the song, to the point that it has influenced the way The Cure themselves now play it live.

On an aesthetic note, I really appreciate Mascis’ personal style, with his beautiful long silver hair, big glasses and complete disregard of any of the coolness bullshit that comes with being labelled an ‘indie’ icon. He remains one of the freest musicians I have ever listened to on album and live.

Despite my expectations of a more guitar-focused performance, the gig is more an all-round celebration of Mascis’ peculiar style as a singer, guitarist and stage persona. With his unusual and perfectly accomplished combination of acoustic and noise, he has nurtured the affectionate audience without the need to fill the space with useless talk. Enjoy the silence.

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Francesca Nottola

I write, translate, edit texts and take pictures. I solve problems for pensioners and create problems to everyone else. Sometimes a history researcher and language tutor, I would happily live in a national archive or in the head of professional musicians. Unfortunately, I say what I think