Beer and Pavement

Pavement – July 18, 2010

Posted in Live, Pavement by SM on July 26, 2010

Disclaimer: This is more than a week after Pavement played Pitchfork, but it took forever for me to write in between things like a day job and parenthood. It’s not the perfect sound forever post I originally intended, but it’s a done post and that’s good enough. I hope you’re liking the new footnotes. They certainly make for an easier read. Also, I got no good pictures at the show, which may somehow be appropriate. For more on my Pitchfork experience, click here.

Yep, that's how I remembered them.

Yep, that's how I remembered them.

I waited eleven years to see my favorite band play again[1]. And they started off where they left it in 1999. I mean, it was Chicago instead of Cincinnati and July instead of October, but Pavement was the same.

Pavement’s ability to be rather ordinary or even somewhat imperfect both amazed and infuriated the fans around me, 10-15 feet from the stage, but it made me feel right at home. It was amazingly normal for a Pavement show. Some of the kids who stood for hours with me in front of the Aluminum stage Sunday evening were in awe of this while others were pissed it wasn’t better.

The Band
Here’s my take on each band member. I feel like I know them after years of following the band in the 90’s and even more years reading everything I can get my hands on[2]. Of course, I don’t really know the members of Pavement personally, but I’ve seen them live enough to make a few observations.

Stephen Malkmus was stationed stage-right[3] as usual. However, never had I noticed him to be so separate from the rest of the band. Maybe it was the size of the stage or all those things I read about how distant he was from his band mates near the end. Malk was situated as if he were playing to the rest of Pavement as they were playing to us. Anyway, he overcame some early voice issues to put on a pretty good show. His guitar playing is so much better than it used to be. I knew this from seeing him several times with the Jicks, but it was rather apparent upon watching his fingers dance along his guitar, improvising throughout the set. The best part may have happened when he forgot to that it was his responsibility to start a song, such is the essence of Pavement.

Mark Ibold was center stage and having a great time there. He constantly turned to different band members for various cues. He too is a better musician than he was eleven years ago[4]. Ibold was always happy on stage, but Sunday he seemed to exude a confidence from his years with Pavement and now as a part of Sonic Youth’s lineup.

Also seemingly having fun was Scott Kannberg, situated opposite of Malk. Looking a little heavier but nonetheless happier, Spiral Stairs dutifully played his parts and enjoyed his time with his mates. He was wearing a conductor’s hat and, oddly enough, a t-shirt that seemed to match Ibold’s. In fact, four of the band members seemed to be wearing similarly bluish-gray t-shirts with Malk wearing a buttoned-up shirt.

The two-headed percussion monster of Steve West and Bob Nastanovich were by far the most active of the group. Westy played well, if not off time periodically throughout the set, but this was to be expected. I’d never noticed before, but it seemed some of the odd phrasing and drawn out chords from Malkmus were often intended to get everyone (especially West) back on track. I just always thought it was part of his shtick. Who knew?

Bob, of course, held down his many spots on stage, keeping time, blasting the Moog, and taking over all the screaming parts for a weary Malkmus. Nasty looked to me to be the one getting the most out of this reunion. Although I believe Kannberg values the band’s perception and legacy the most, it’s Bob whose only musical outlet is Pavement. The others all have their musical projects. Nastanovich was using the entire hour-and-a-half set to get this music bug out of his system. And we were all very grateful.

The Setlist
1. Cut Your Hair – Even with a false start, I was so happy to hear the band’s one “hit”. It made me look forward to returning home where I could sing this song yet again to my daughter[5].
2. In The Mouth A Desert – A typical mid-tempo Slanted and Enchanted track with a slow build-up to a chaotic ending was a logical place to go next. And when Malk sang “I’m the king of it”, there was little doubt of what “it” was[6].
3. Silence Kit – Another Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain track took the third slot and carried on the mid-tempo party. This one may have gotten a bigger reception than the opener.
4. Kennel District – You had to know that one of the few Spiral Stairs songs would make it into the set[7]. This one is probably his best and band really brought it home.
5. Shady Lane – The promotional posters the band was selling at the merch booth read “It’s everybody’s God”, leading me to believe that the song would make the list[8]. The pause in the middle was perfectly executed and the pit went about as wild as possible for such a light, mid-tempo song.
6. Frontwards – This song has grown in prominence since the band broke up and for good reason. Besides that it’s a great song, the guitar heroics were particularly crowd-pleasing. One thing the song also does is reminds us of why the band broke up in the first place as Malk sings “Well I’ve got style/Miles and miles/So much style that it’s wasting[9].”
7. Unfair – This rocker got the pit hopping. It also caused an inordinate amount of kids yelling the lyrics. Of course, we were all spent at this point, that is until…
8. Grounded – This song’s opening plucks cut through the must and dirt drummed up in the pit. When it’s proclaimed that “boys are dying on these streets”, I sort of believed it as I was pressed into my neighbors in the ninety-degree heat.
9. Debris Slide – This one was a chance for Bob to be front and center with the chorus being a shout-along.
10. Spit on a Stranger
11. Range Life – As the band approached the third verse, I wondered if Billy Corgan[10] was in the audience. Malk altered the words slightly to say “Chicago’s Pumpkins: flower kids/ they’ve got no function.”
12. Perfume-V
13. Trigger Cut – Two old-school rockers picked up the set’s pace a bit before…
14. Stereo – A good setlist often has a build-up somewhere in the middle and just bombards you. The pit was absolutely insane at this moment.
15. Two States – What a romp this song was and you wouldn’t expect anything else as the audience screamed “forty million daggers!”
16. Gold Soundz – I still remember singing songs like this as I drove though the Ohio countryside with the windows rolled down. This is where I fell in love with this band 15 or so years ago[11].
17. Conduit For Sale! – The first four or so times I saw Pavement, they never played this song. Now, I’ve seen them play two times in a row. Of course, before Sunday, it had been eleven years ago.
18. Stop Breathin
19. Here – These two somewhat somber songs started the slow wind-down to the end.
20. The Hexx – Almost any track from Terror Twilight would have been a good one with which to conclude. Of course, “Carrot Rope” may have been a bit too heavy[12].

The Audience
After a long weekend with 18,000 new friends, I quickly assessed that the crowd up front at each stage was young, or younger than me anyway. Pavement’s set was no different. I did find a few fans in my age group, though. I met some guys from Iowa who were also attending the KC show I’m going to in September. There was one guy who had listened to Pavement since ’92 and had never seen them in person. Other than that, it was a lot of kids.

While it’s good that my favorite band’s legacy will live on with all these young fans, it’s bittersweet as these kids had little context with which to judge what they were seeing[13]. For one, there was a freaking mosh pit. I thought those had died out a long time ago, but I saw a lot of moshing throughout the weekend and Pavement’s set had its share as well. There was also a lot of shouting the lyrics. My siblings and I used to love to play around with the delivery of Malkmus lyrics much the way SM does on stage. Shouting is more Bob’s territory, but the majority of Pavement songs should be sung, not yelled. I’ve since dismissed the moshing and shouting as youthful exuberance. There actually isn’t anything wrong with that.

The other thing I observed in the audience was the extreme emotions some of the kids demonstrated. These two kids next to me were in this blissful daze as if they were seeing god. Now, I love Pavement, but part of their charm is how ordinary they actually are. The music they make is remarkable, but it’s also attainable.

An issue that caused some terrible suffering was the bass levels. Positioned right in front of the stage, we were blasted by a ton of Mark Ibold’s bass. My suspicion is that everyone else in Union Park thought it sounded fine as the majority of the sound system is directed at them. Sometimes when you’re right in front, the sound is shittier than if you’re all the way in the back[14]. Nonetheless, a few fans were losing their shit over the bass being too loud. Sure, it was a little bass-heavy (not exactly a cornerstone of the Pavement sound), but that’s the trade-off when you get that close to such a large stage. I was cool with it since I knew what the songs sounded like. I certainly feel like the kid who was screaming and pleading for the band to turn down the bass just had no perspective on the whole thing. He seemed really hurt that they wouldn’t fix the bass levels for his listening experience.

Then the show ended abruptly without an encore[15]. Malk encouraged people to head out to a club to see label mates Times New Viking[16]. Several young fans around me were infuriated. The band didn’t play “Summer Babe“. They didn’t do an encore and they wanted everyone to end the night at a gig for some unknown band in a shitty little club. I thought it was perfect, myself. They played a great set, leaving everyone wanting more[17]. The set was incredibly varied and loaded with fan favorites. And Malk’s encouragement to see TNV demonstrated how these guys don’t see themselves as the legends everyone else does. They’re just another band on Matador.

Did Pavement live up to my expectations? Surprisingly, yes. I was prepared that they wouldn’t be able to match the anticipation I’ve had for this reunion since the Central Park shows were announced almost a year ago. I figured they could never live up to that lofty position they’ve held in my indie rock hierarchy,  but they did. Pavement is imperfectly perfect[18] in every way. It’s hard not to meet that kind of expectation.

Notes:
1It happened to be their last North American gig, a fact not completely apparent to us at that moment.
2I don’t mean this in a creepy super-fan kind of way. I am not a stalker. I promise.
3Which is left to the audience.
4Although, I honestly never thought he was a terrible bass player. Ibold isn’t the best musician ever, but he’s a solid groove-provider.
5She refers to it as the “monkey song” as the ooh-ooh-ooh’s sound more like monkeys than some dudes from Stockton.
6Regardless of which bands left the fest with the most buzz, it’s pretty undeniable where music would be without Pavement’s influence. If not aesthetics, then the ethics of the band have been copied by many an indie band. It’s hard to deny the footprint of a band like Pavement after a weekend at Pitchfork.
7I could have lived without any Kannberg songs, but I understood why there was room for one.
8Of course, I also figured the setlist would only consist of songs from their greatest hits record. I was wrong about that one. Cynics don’t always win.
9Let me explain. Malk is the reason Pavement was any good. That’s been proven by the collective output of the band members. By far the best and most remarkable work has come from SM. Kannberg’s some recording as has West, but I wouldn’t begin to compare the quality of their work with Stephen Malkmus. His talents were nearly wasted in Pavement. I think they got all they could out of that lineup.
10You do know that Corgan has his issues with Pavement, right? They made fun of the Smashing Pumpkins in the aforementioned line. Corgan proceeded to boot Pavement from the ’94 Lollapalooza lineup for such a transgression.
11Who hasn’t fallen in love with a band and/or album this way? Well, driving through the countryside with the windows down, not necessarily the Ohio part.
12As “Carrot Rope” has generally been cited as the Pavement break up song despite it’s upbeat tempo.
13I am totally generalizing the audience here. I do realize there are some rather sophisticated music fans under 30, even under 20. The audience was loaded with kids who would be just as happy attending Bonaroo or Lollapalooza as Pitchfork. They may even have more Phish, Lady Gaga, or Green Day MP3’s than Pavement. That’s OK, but it explains some of the reactions to Pavement’s set.
14I don’t completely understand this phenomena, but I think it has to do with the source of the sound and overall acoustics. Those up front in any venue get mostly the blast from the band’s speakers and amps. The rest of the audience gets a mix that is more balanced as the house speakers often send sound past the front of the stage. The best sound at a show is rarely right up front. I’ve been to shows where the only way I was going to hear the singing was to be close enough to hear it straight from the performer’s mouth or even through the monitors. Otherwise, I believe it’s better to be further back.
15Well, the set did last around 90 minutes. No encore was needed.
16Along with psychedelic horseshit, both Columbus, OH bands. That was my old stomping grounds, but I left before these two shit-gaze troupes took off.
17This is common for Pavement. Just look at the band’s demise in ’99. For an example of not knowing when to stop in order for fans to want more, see Pixies and/or Guided By Voices.
18Or perfectly imperfect. I couldn’t decide which one was more apt.

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6 Responses

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  1. Steve said, on July 26, 2010 at 8:21 am

    Great review. Your perspective on the Pavement body language resonates with what I witnessed earlier in the tour. Malkmus seemed in a world of his own, very separate from the rest of the band, while the others seemed very ‘together’ and having fun – Bob, in particular, who was very much the head cheerleader/entertainer/communicator with the audience.

    The whole reunion circuit, and the make-up of its audience, is fascinating and odd in equal measure. Who would have predicted this kind of market in 1992?

    • builderofcoalitions said, on July 26, 2010 at 8:28 am

      “Who would have predicted this kind of market in 1992?”

      Seriously. I know I didn’t. This is something we all sort of hated back then. And here we are, going to Dinosaur Jr, Pixies, and now Pavement reunion shows where a large portion of the audience is either too old or too young to know these bands in their prime. It is a bit surreal.

  2. carriethewade said, on July 26, 2010 at 8:42 am

    You got me really excited about the KC show now!

    I only hope they play “Frontwards” then as well.

    • builderofcoalitions said, on July 26, 2010 at 8:53 am

      Do you think you’re more excited because their live show might be good or that they are a time capsule of mid-nineties indie/slacker/lo-fi rock nostalgia? I’m not sure which made me feel better, but I suspect the latter.

  3. Jeff said, on July 26, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    The new footnotes rock!

  4. […] release a proper album of new tracks this year. What they did do is answer my prayers with a reunion tour and released maybe the single greatest best-of album I’ve ever heard[9]. Besides, how […]


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