As odd as it might sound for a musician who started in the nineties, and is still primarily associated with his iconic alt-act of that era, Pavement, but Stephen Malkmus has been experiencing a boom in attention. The once-Pavement frontman, of his own Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks since the start of this century/millennium, has been interviewed by not just SPIN but also The New York Times [though apparently that tired him out so much that he just couldn’t find the time & energy to talk to the equally important QRO…] – there was even an article about him in seminal political commentary magazine The New Republic. He & The Jicks have a new album out this year, Sparkle Hard (QRO review), and brought it to a packed Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday, June 15th.
Very packed, despite being the second of two nights at Music Hall (QRO venue review) – perhaps the most packed that your correspondent has ever seen the venue. There were definitely those who were there both nights, and Malkmus has a hardcore fan base that sells well with multiple nights at smaller places, but perhaps next time one night somewhere bigger [this is also why there’s only a few, not-so-great photos from QRO…].
Touring behind Sparkle Hard, it naturally dominated the set list. Indeed, the evening began with Sparkle opener “Cast Off”, but it was noteworthy that following it up was “Bike Lane”. The Sparkle track got notoriety, at least from the likes of the Times, for Malkmus mentioning Freddie Gray’s tragic death from police brutality in Baltimore – and juxtaposing it with a Portlander’s demands for “another beautiful bike lane.” Malkmus lives in Portland, and has long had a fascination with Baltimore, including writing a song about the home of The Wire (which he played later in the night), but rarely gets political. Maybe this was his way of getting the politics out and done with early.
Malkmus fans have been divided between those who preferred his earliest work (and probably liked Pavement better than anything solo), and those who really enjoy his later, current period shift into more jam material. The audience in age stretched from nineties era fans who are well into middle age, to those who found him early in his solo career, to even younger folks. The evening distinctly tilted towards the later period, not just with Sparkle material, but other choices on the set list, including Malkmus jamming. Sparkle standouts included “Cast Off”, “Bike Lane”, and mid-set “Tigers”, later number “Refute” (with bassist Joanna Bolme doing Kim Gordon’s vocal part), along with 2011’s Mirror Traffic’s (QRO review) “Stick Figures In Love” in the encore return.
But the encore had the biggest ‘old song’ – none other than Pavement classic “Shady Lane”. For a long time after his old band had ended, Malkmus & The Jicks refused to play Pavement songs, despite requests (“Sorry we’re not good enough for you…” bassist Bolme once joked – QRO live review). But sometime after Pavement’s 2010 reunion (QRO review), he/they became more comfortable pulling a few out. That included the prior night at Music Hall, but lots of those there on Friday didn’t know that, and were shocked & overjoyed by the late great, singing along at the top of their lungs.
“Shady Lane” has a point in the middle where it stops, and stop it did, as Malkmus took the opportunity to tune, as well as introduce his band, Bolme, drummer (“and Marquis de Sade” fan, for his Sade-the-singer t-shirt) Jake Morris, and multi-instrumentalist Mike Clark. Clark described the mid-song break, “The concept of delayed gratification,” with which Bolme added, “Which is very familiar to us ladies, correct?…”
“Shady Lane” did return, Malkmus joking after, “That’s ‘Shady Lane’ by Pavement – in case you didn’t know.” “Yeah, we do covers,” he added, before the band went into a very rough version of Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good” (“We’re work-shopping it,” Clark noted), then closing with “Pink India” from first solo release, Stephen Malkmus.
Some fans undoubtedly quibbled with the set list choices – a few were debating it post-show in the line for the men’s room, wishing for Malkmus’ “Jo Jo’s Jacket”, his tribute to Yul Brynner, which has itself has become noteworthy again because it references his role in the movie Westworld (“I acted like a robotic cowboy / It was my best role / I can not deny I”) – though they couldn’t remember the name of the song after it on the album, “Church on White” [your correspondent’s favorite, though he didn’t correct them]. But Stephen Malkmus has successfully moved into his next generation of music making.