Thurston Moore, J Mascis, Be Your Own Pet Blow Minds, Amps at SXSW - Rolling Stone
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Thurston Moore, J Mascis, Be Your Own Pet Blow Minds, Amps at SXSW

Thurston Moore demonstrated all sorts of guitar heroics at Friday night’s Ecstatic Peace showcase at the Mohawk Patio. The rock legend/label mastermind spent the night prepping to play his own headlining set while shepherding the rest of the lineup’s acts through trouble — reassuring Be Your Own Pet when their sound went dead; adjusting the treble on J Mascis’ amp (“Much better!” he mouthed).

Though he was often visible lurking side-stage, when Moore stepped up for his set and teased a photographer in the front row about his Courtyard Marriott pen, the truly magical Moore arrived. Opening with “a song about everybody who’s out of work” he kicked into “Off Work,” a wordless three-chord jam that summarizes the aesthetic of last year’s solo album Trees Outside the Academy — crisp acoustic-guitar led tracks that sound like Sonic Youth’s less-squawky songs on Ambien. Moore played several more Trees tunes (“Silver>Blue,” “Honest James,” “Fri/End”) that showed off his ability to write (relatively) short and sweet songs and his skill at generating epic tension with just a single repeated note. When it came time to acknowledge his band, Moore introduced his bassist — a dead ringer for Chris Cornell in Singles— simply as “Satan,” adding, “you know Steve Shelley” (violinist Samara Lubelski and guitarist Chris Brokaw rounded out the lineup).

Moore returned for the encore with a sticker-coated electric guitar and the crowd went wild when he announced the band would be playing the Velvet Underground song they’d honored Lou Reed with the day prior, lesser-known gem “I’m Not a Young Man Anymore.” “I’m going to be five-oh this year,” Moore said, “and I like this song because it’s about growing old.” It was an ironic intro since watching his mop of hair flop around during his acrobatic spazz-out of a guitar solo, he could have been carded at the door. The band returned once more, for “Staring Statues” from 1995’s Psychic Hearts — the most Sonic Youth-sounding song of the bunch — and Moore fiercely shredded at his guitar strings, eventually turning the instrument around and letting fans in the front rows whack away at it as the song dissolved into chaos.

Earlier, J Mascis took the stage alone to prove he could make an acoustic guitar sound just as loud and velvety as any electric. Bent over his instrument with cascades of gray hair nearly touching the strings, the Dinosaur Jr. leader’s first two tracks came off a bit pitchy, but after Moore requested Mascis fiddle with his amp, the set turned spectacular. Mascis absolutely demolished a version of “Get Me,” ripping out a mind-boggling solo that had all the head-nodding dudes in the front staring wide-eyed at the guitarist’s remarkable fingers, and brilliantly noodled through the rest of his short set with loops of his own guitar work as his only accompaniment.

If the crowd gawked at Mascis’ musicality, they were equally rapt for the preceding set from the label’s young Nashville punks Be Your Own Pet. After letting a friend draw a pair of lipstick racing stripes under her eyes, Jemina Pearl Abegg started things off with, “Hi, we’re Be Your Own Pet. Ready?” Before anyone could even draw a breath, the band launched into a tidal wave of raw energy, Abegg strutting around the stage like a zombie running back with one hand outstretched in front of her, her head flailing around, miraculously missing collisions with Nathan Vasquez’s flying bass and guitarist Jonas Stein’s scissor-kicks. After just a few songs, though, the speakers stopped working and Abegg vamped by talking to the audience about John Waters movies without a mike. When the band finally retook the stage fifteen minutes later, they picked up exactly where they left off, with “Bummer Time” and “The Kelly Affair” from their terrific new album Get Awkward — Abegg performed the former from atop a brawny friend’s shoulders, and bounded around the tiny stage to the sassy twist riff of the latter. For their closer, Stein finally joined his pals in the mosh pit, playing the last two minutes on the floor as friends and fans grabbed at his head and guitar. Only later did he learn that rocking so hard had a price: “I hate to ruin the mood, but I lost my passport and I have to go to the U.K. tomorrow,” he announced as Moore playfully grabbed him from behind like a proud dad.


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