Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks were in a good mood when they hit Hoboken’s Maxwell’s on February 11th. The band wasn’t slowed down by handicaps, like too-powerful lighting on bassist Joanna Bolme, or the lack of a monitor for guitarist/keyboardist Mike Clark (as he said, “Monitor, Schmonitor”). New drummer Janet Weiss (of the much-loved, and now-defunct, Sleater-Kinney) rode their energy even after the show, going right from playing drums to hawking t-shirts. And SM himself displayed an excellent balance of excited and professional, even though he was suffering from the flu (giving him a voice that was remarked upon as sounding like 80’s punker Henry Rollins of Black Flag – or Gavin Rossdale of 90’s post-grunge wannabe’s Bush). All these things made The Jicks even more determined to deliver the goods.
And deliver they did. The set was a mix of about half new songs that they’ve been playing on their recent tour, while a quarter were tracks off the last Stephen Malkmus album (2005’s Face the Truth), and the rest were older than that. While they opened up with the album-starters of Face (“Pencil Rot”) and 2003’s Pig Lib (“Water and a Seat”), they then started into a stretch of new material, beginning with the upbeat “Merry Go Round” and the cute “Dragonfly Pie.” The Jicks went on to deliver a nearly ten-minute jam with one new song (“Real Emotional Trash”), and seven-minute versions of two others (“Baltimore Again” and “Hopscotch Willie”).
There were times during these when the audience seemed to wear a bit. Most fans came to know Malkmus when he served as frontman for nineties indie-icons Pavement, and some of those have accused him of creating, in effect, a “jam-band” with The Jicks (even pointing to them having played at the 2006 “Coachella-meets-Woodstock” Bonnaroo Festival, and their appearance next month at the Langerado Festival with such neo-hippie acts as Widespread Panic and ex-Phish frontman Trey Anastasio). But that all is really just the sour grapes of people who never got to see Pavement live – Pavement themselves were known for doing seven-plus-minute-long renditions of “Fight This Generation”. Plus, alt-gods Radiohead and Sonic Youth played Bonnaroo last year, while Langerado will also feature recent indie hits Band of Horses and The Slip.
When a Pavement request was yelled for, early on in the set, Bolme sagely replied, “After [we play] that, you’ll just ask for it again,” before jokingly adding, “Sorry we’re not ‘good enough’ for you.” SM & The Jicks were well aware of their audience’s feelings, and were neither apologetic, nor arrogant. They didn’t back down from performing their extended jam work, nor refraining from doing previously-released numbers like the beautiful “Freeze the Saints” and the bopping “Baby, C’mon”. They even lived up to a promise, and played their requested ‘autobiography of a pirate’, “The Hook”. Malkmus also kept the audience on their toes: he performed the first song he ever wrote, “Psychopath” (which took all of thirty seconds to play – twice), and ended the show by actually filling a nineties-era request, “Send in the Clouds” – off his service on the 1998 Silver Jews record, American Water.
The Jicks were in a playful mood at Maxwell’s (QRO venue review), on new material, old material, and everything in-between. Stephen Malkmus engaged the crowd often and effectively, whether with his band intros, announcement of the encore break (“That’s the end. We have more [to play], but that’s the end”), or using a high-pitched voice to mimic Joanna Bolme’s obsession with Gavin Rossdale (“I love Gavin. I want to have his baby”); Janet Weiss enthusiastically told a corny joke, rimshot included, and Mike Clark brought a solo of cowbell-like sounds out of his keyboard. What’s more, the audience was engaged too, jumping on the old stuff and taking in the new, as well as with issuing such things as compliments of Malkmus’ mustache, cries of “More Cowbell!” (evoking Christopher Walken in his hilarious turn on SNL), and even requesting songs that more fit Malkmus’ altered voice, such as Black Flag’s “Class War” (note: request later determined to actually have come from Silver Jews bassist Mike Fellows) and, of course, Bush’s “Glycerine”.