Good old fashioned rock n’ roll doesn’t get nearly enough attention these days. People are so interested in finding the next great innovation in genre that they fail to remember that certain styles of music are truly timeless and can still offer fresh surprises at every turn. Not only that, but who’s so jaded they aren’t impressed by a complex guitar solo? It’s a certain skill that very few can truly master, so all credit should be given to those that can. Case in point, this Saturday at the legendary Metro here in Chicago you have the unique opportunity to see two of the greatest rock guitarists still making music today do their thing: J. Mascis and Steve Gunn.
Dinosaur Jr. has been around for what seems like forever, and in the musical world 30+ years kind of is. Of course they were inactive for eight of those years, so that gap decreases their legendary status just a little bit. But that’s neither here nor there, because they’ve been back in action for the last decade and have arguably eclipsed the great work they did in the 80s and 90s that earned them a place among alternative rock royalty such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam. Mascis may be their anchor, what with his aching vocals and fuzzed out guitar solos that are distinctive enough that you can easily pick them out of a crowd, but don’t discount a force of nature like Lou Barlow, who is a spectacular bassist and singer in his own right (as evidenced by his work in Sebadoh). Should I compliment their drummer Murph too? Oh, sure. He does an excellent job keeping the rhythms tight and heavy in the face of each song’s relative unpredictability. Dinosaur Jr’s new record Give a Glimpse of What Yr Not only reaffirms all of these assertions, and proves their inspiration and creativity remains sharply intact even after all these years. The question at this point is how long that will last. This latest revival of the band has already lasted longer than their first two stints, and with any luck it’ll stick for many more records. Or not. Best to see them while you can. If you’ve never witnessed J. Mascis destroying guitar solo after guitar solo right in front of you, that’s something to put on your bucket list. It’s a genuine joy to watch him and the rest of the band work.
Lesser known but no less talented is Steve Gunn. The Brooklyn-based musician first earned his stripes by playing in Kurt Vile’s band as one of The Violators. Of course he’s also been releasing solo albums for nearly a decade now, at a pace of about one per year. Toss in some collaborative efforts as well, and the guy becomes positively prolific. While much of his early work has been rooted in gorgeous lo-fin instrumentals, by the time 2014’s Way Out Weather arrived he felt like a fully formed entity, complete with a backing band and confident vocals. A big part of what makes Gunn’s music so compelling is his ability to compose these complex folk and rootsy songs while making it all seem completely effortless. Nothing is ever hurried or panicked in both voice and melody. You put on his records while relaxing with a beer on the porch or cruising across the heartland of America. That’s particularly true on his new album Eyes on the Lines, which is thematically embossed with the call of the open road. Simplistic as his songs may seem on the surface, closer listens reveal light touches of psychedelia, krautrock and blues, among other genres. Solos bob and weave through otherwise standard melodies, like eels writhing around in the ocean. Think about My Morning Jacket or a less jam-heavy Grateful Dead or The War on Drugs as bearing similar or shared sonic markers with Gunn and you’ll gain a much better understanding of what he’s all about. In a live setting, it’s equally relaxed and thrilling to watch him work through songs as they divert down unexpected paths and tear through the fabric of expectation. Don’t miss him if you can help it. The Metro show this Saturday is virtually sold out, but here are the details anyways in case you’re lucky enough to get tickets.
Dinosaur Jr. / Steve Gunn / Thalia Zedek Band
Saturday, October 8th
9PM / $31 / 18+
If you miss Steve Gunn this weekend, the good news is that he’ll be back in Chicago next Saturday (October 15th) for a performance with Jim Elkington at the Logan Square Food Truck Social. Tickets for that one are $5 and you can find out more information here.