8 out of 10: Delightfully off-kilter indie rock
You could confuse Pavement for your IT department. Despite what you’d expect from a rock and roll band, they saunter unassumingly onto stage dressed in bland T-shirts, their mothers more than likely having cut their hair. Although Stephen Malkmus is the band’s leader, he’s tucked away to the left of the bass player, Mark Ibold, who takes centre stage. And just like computer geeks, once you get past their nondescript exterior and awkward approach to the world, you begin to appreciate the amazing shit they can do that no one else can.
Sure, you might be partial to both sides of the great musical divides, but there will always be arguments over who or which is better: the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, Prince or Michael Jackson, Slanted and Enchanted or Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. At the Palace, Pavement only make things more difficult to resolve by beginning their show with the exquisite rollick of Silence Kid (AKA the misprinted Silence Kit), finishing off with a hyper-energetic Conduit for Sale! and mining deeply from their classic first two albums throughout the night.
There is, however, another musical divide that becomes apparent over the course of the show: that between the slower, more reflective songs and the rockier, punchier numbers. Tonight, Pavement are loud and raucous. Yelling the cryptic refrain “forty, million, daggers” on Two States has always been one of life’s great pleasures. Live, with the guitars crunching and the muffled lo-fi fuzz of the recorded version replaced with punky punch, yelling the same refrain is akin to a primal therapy session. Similarly, songs such as Stereo and Unfair take flight when the chorus hits like a manic sonic bomb. Such pep combined with impromptu musical jams between songs, the bizarre antics of not one but two spare-parts musicians and the seemingly random hangers-on emerging from backstage and singing at various moments make for gonzo rock at its finest.
Unfortunately, the gonzo stylings and charged guitars overwhelm what should be reflective moments in the show. The country tinge of Range Life goes begging with nary an acoustic guitar around, and Here comes across as perfunctory rather than plaintive.
Notwithstanding such bugbears, Pavement are delightfully off-kilter. No song structure has ever tied them down, no musical genre typified their music. Their grab-bag style is well converted into a night of shambolic splendour, and their fractured melodies continue to retain their sparkle, positively glowing in the midst of their more manic moments on stage.