Sunday, September 19, 2010

After the Glow: Pavement, 2010.09.17

Pavement/Kurt Vile and the Violators
Mann Center for the Performing Arts
Philadelphia, PA

"Did y'all see the Dead here? This seems like the kind of place the Dead would have played when they... when they were alive."

The cognitive dissonance may have been obvious, but it was too tempting for Stephen Malkmus not to take the bait. After all, this is their victory lap, their vindication, their chance to enjoy finally being the superstars that everyone told them they should have been throughout their career.

For this blogger, this evening was the culmination of sixteen years of waiting, anticipation, and frustration. Having been a fan of Pavement since 1994, I had faced one hurdle after another in my attempts to see the band live over the years, starting with Billy Corgan's "if they play we don't play" Lollapalooza 1994 ultimatum and culminating with an unfortunately-timed workplace injury involving a pulled neck muscle on the day of the band's final Philadelphia show on the Terror Twilight tour of 1999. Sure, in the years since I had seen Malkmus play a handful of shows with the Jicks, and those were some good shows, but the Jucks material never seemed to live up to the Pavement catalogue, which Malkmus steadfastly refused to delve into with his new band. I understand the impulse; Malkmus wanted to be seen as a currently vital artist, and not live off of his past as a nostalgia act. Perhaps part of his reasoning was also that he knew that Pavement's music was a direct result of these five individuals playing together, and that playing the songs with what would amount to a pickup band would render them defanged.

Of course, over the years I had heard stories of Pavement's legendarily sloppy, unrehearsed live shows that seemed to run the gamut from inspired but shambolic to completely disastrous, but after 16 years of waiting none of this mattered. As it happened, it was also completely irrelevant. Pavement 2010 may be the same guys, but they are nevertheless a different band than Pavement 1994.

Having never seen Pavement during its initial run, I can't comment much on specific differences between the two bands, but using old YouTube and Slow Century footage as points of comparison, I can confirm that Pavement 2010 is a much tighter, more well-oiled machine. The playing was just precise enough, while still remaining loose and spontaneous enough to not sound tired or overrehearsed. In the years since Pavement's demise, Malkmus has recast himself from sardonic slacker crown prince to a consummate professional and virtuoso, albeit one with a quick wit and cyncial sense of humor. The Malkmus fronting Pavement 2010 strikes the middle ground between these roles; he still appears all business and unsmiling onstage, but his demeanor has loosened up while playing these songs, and he injects enough ad-libs and spontaneous vocal hiccups into his delivery to betray an almost giddy sense of fun and excitement. As for the rest of the guys, they may be older, they may have lost hair in some places, grown more hair in other places, and put on some body mass in all places in general, but they were so radiant and energetic that it didn't matter. Scott "Spiral Stauirs" Kannberg may have changed so much that one would scarcely recognize him on the street, but once he started singing "Kennel District" one could not mistake him for anybody else. Mark Ibold still looks like a teenager in a pop-punk band with his hair flopping as he jumps up and down with the bass line. Bob Nastanovich is still an unpredictable madman, Pavement's secret weapon, except now he has a wireless mic and is no longer tethered to the stage area.And Steve West... well, he's still Steve West,

And the audience? The audience has perhaps changed most of all. I'm not quite sure how or why Pavement's following and legacy has changed so much in the past decade, but to a packed Mann Center (a venue that Pavement NEVER would have been able to command during its initial run), the band was received as rapturously as a religious figure might be. The band members seemed genuinely appreciative of this attention, and the energy and excitement was palpable from my vantage point in the third row. The mix of people was remarkable as well; there were veterans who had seen Pavement many times over the years and were happy to get a chance to see them off fittingly and say goodbye, there were people in my position who were old enough to have seen them the first time but missed out for one reason or another, there were even eight year-olds who knew every word to every song. This was the following that everyone told Pavement they should have had in the mid-90s, but which they could never achieve. This was their vindication. The band had a lot of fun and had an undeniable chemistry. I understand Malkmus especially not wanting to become a nostalgia act, and therefore resiting the urge to reunite for good. On the other hand, these guys have something special together and it would be a shame, and a loss for all of us as listeners, if they didn't find a way to continue working together in some capacity. Unfortunately, I do believe that the purpose of this tour is spelled out in no uncertain terms on the back cover of the tour book, which depicts a pair of puckered lips, a stack of money, and a small bird perched atop saying, "Bye-bye." Pavement broke up before being able to say goodbye the first time. They're coming back to give us a proper goodbye, but yes, they are going to take our money while doing it.

And frankly, with the quality of the show they put on (in terms of performance and setlist), I'd happily give them my money. The band opened with a sublime reading of fan favorite "Grounded," took a dig at final album Terror Twilight (and indeed, the show featured only one song from this much-maligned album), and then featured a hyperactive performance of the closest they ever had to a hit single, "Cut Your Hair," as the second song of the evening. They blasted their way through 24 more songs over the span of an hour and 45 minutes, all of them well-loved fan favorites, all of them being sung along back to the band by the entire adoring crowd. There was no "Summer Babe" and no "Carrot Rope," but given what we did get, who am I to complain?

Besides, there's always this Tuesday in New York!

Cut Your Hair
Kennel District
Heckler Spray
Elevate Me Later
Silence Kid
Starlings of the Slipstream
Box Elder
Fight This Generation
Shady Lane
Spit on a Stranger
Two States
In the Mouth a Desert
Conduit for Sale!
We Dance
Rattled by the Rush
Range Life
Date with IKEA
Trigger Cut
Stop Breathin'
(Malkmus playing "Old to Begin" during second encore break)
Gold Soundz

I did record the entire set, thanks to my recording assistant Paul Mc. I had inadvertently left my external mics at home, so I had to record using the Zoom H2's onboard mics with the recorder in Paul's pocket, which is not the ideal recording setup and led to some occasional muffling and sonic anomalies, but overall it is a remarkably clean recording and sounds much better than I was expecting it to. Enjoy!

Download 2010.09.17 - Pavement as a .zip file.