"My first ever acoustic performance, and I'm a little freaked out." With those words, then-Dinosaur Jr. frontman J Mascis kicked off the show on this live set (recorded in December 1993), in which the man who'd made his name with bludgeoning volume and über-heavy electric guitar freakouts quietly stripped his songs down to their framework for an evening. While Mascis would get more comfortable with such things over the passage of time (as evidenced on his 1996 album Martin + Me), for a first-time gig in an unfamiliar format, Live at CBGB's sounds surprisingly confident and coherent. Presented in their simplest form, Mascis' songs display a tuneful elegance that sometimes gets lost when pumped through a stack of Marshalls (especially "Not the Same," "What Else Is New," and "Keeblin'"), and while on the first few numbers he tends to overemphasize the natural drawl in his voice, by the end of the show Mascis is in admirable form as both a guitarist and a singer. However, the show on Live at CBGB's apparently set a template for Mascis' future acoustic gigs, since eight of these 12 songs would be repeated on Martin + Me, including the cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Every Mother's Son." Despite this, loyalists will be pleased to hear a fast blast through the non-LP rarity "Throw Down" and a cover of "On the Run" by Greg Sage. If hearing Mascis without electricity isn't your idea of a good time, Live at CBGB's: The First Acoustic Show isn't likely to change your mind, but more open-minded fans will discover that the guy writes great songs and knows how to make them work with or without waves of distortion and feedback crashing behind them.
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AllMusic Review by Mark Deming