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.

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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LeBron James, Matador, and Disappointment

Posted in Jock Straps, Life, Pavement by SM on July 12, 2010

Disappointment is a part of life. Not everything goes your way. Disappointment can be a downer, it can even hurt a little. Sometimes, that disappointment is so bad that it morphs into distress or depression. Even once you accept disappointment’s inevitability, it doesn’t make the pain go away any quicker.

Sometimes we set ourselves up for the worst disappointments. Hype is built all around a person or an experience, hype that is never attainable. There’s this sense of entitlement that things should go our way just because we want it so badly. In these instances, the letdown is greatest.

Buy my ego!Such is the disappointment in my home state of Ohio1. That’s where LeBron James pulled the dagger stuck in Cleveland’s collective sporting heart, washed it in the polluted Cuyahoga River, and returned it to its home deep inside Cleveland Municipal Stadium where he twisted until there was no life left. In other words, he took advantage of his free agent status and signed with a team that is not the Cleveland Cavaliers who have the ability to win championships in the next two to three years as opposed to losing them the past three2. James is now a Heat3. The fans of Cleveland are so disenchanted from this letdown that they’re burning jerseys, making vague death threats, and even writing angry letters in Comic Sans4.

I won’t bore you with the trials and tribulations that is professional sports history in Cleveland5. Let’s just say they have not had much luck. However, when James was drafted as an 18-year-old phenom from nearby Akron, Clevelanders were convinced this was the ticket to ending their suffering. James himself declared his desire to bring a championship to Cleveland, but what star athlete wouldn’t do the same for their long suffering city? Cleveland fans bought into the myth, the legend-in-the-making. Suddenly, it was as if that 30% unemployment rate had disappeared. Drew Carey became funny. And videos like this would soon lose all humor and relevance…

So, things were good for a while. Even though the Indians6 and Browns were still just..well, the Indians and Browns, Cleveland sports fans had hope that LeBron James would return for another go at a championship. The Cavs had the best record in the league for two straight years and James was the two-time reigning NBA MVP as well. If he signed with the Cavs this off-season, LeBron could guarantee himself a max contract and the adoration of Clevelanders for eternity7.

Instead, over the course of an hour-long ESPN infomercial for his ego, LeBron James disappointed every single Cavs fan by deciding to move to Miami. Now, pro athletes do this all the time. However, an expectation had been built that LeBron would never leave Cleveland and win them a sorely needed championship. Sure, some of those expectations were built-up by a 25-year-old man8 who can dunk a basketball with the best of them, but most of those expectations were built or at least embellished by a fanbase hungry for a championship.

Cavs fans were more than a little disappointed and they demonstrated their hurt by burning James in effigy and declaring him enemy #1. They felt they had a right to a championship. They were spoiled by seven years of pretty amazing basketball and rhetoric that made them believe that even Cleveland was entitled to a championship. The entitlement unfulfilled left the people of Cleveland very, very disappointed to say the least.

Sorry for the sporting news, moving on with another example of disappointment…

never againIn my world, I have been obsessed with the Matador 21st anniversary party in Las Vegas and I’m not the only one. If you were to peruse the comments on the Matablog, you would find a similarly ravenous fanbase to the one that follows the Cleveland basketball franchise. And even before the tickets were to go on-sale, a similar sentiment was expressed as those pour fanatics in Cleveland.

Matador fans were already disappointed with the ticket price, hotel accommodations, Las Vegas’ allotment of tickets9, the lack of information, ticket price, no Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 reunion, an inability to call in sick for work to get tickets, ticket price, etc. before the tickets ever went on sale. There was a huge cry of disappointment that no one10 would be able to see maybe the most amazing three-day lineup in American independent music history. And swirling among that disappointment was that same sense of entitlement felt by those jilted Cavalier fans. Only this time, folks who had original “Girly Sound” tapes and saw Pavement when Gary Young still did headstands off his kit were incensed that they were not given their desired allotment of tickets due to their years of fandom as opposed to LeBron James’ jersey-wearing “witnesses” pining for a championship.

In the end, 2,100 or so people were able to score tickets. The real disappointment came when the tickets were gone in 2 minutes11. I should know, I tried in vain for 25 minutes just to get tickets and hotel packages into my shopping cart with no luck. I, like many others, was disappointed.

Basically, these two fanbases suffered tremendous disappointments last week, but not so much because their favorite sports star or indie label had let them down. Oh no, it had more to do with this strange entitlement they seem to feel. Cavs fans feel they are entitled to a championship. Indie rock fans felt they were entitled to see a reunited Guided By Voices from a black jack table. From where does that entitlement come? Does anyone really need these things?

The only thing I can come up with is that fans feel they deserve to be paid for their loyalty, their patronage. Would LeBron James or Matador be where they are without their fans? Maybe. Maybe not. They are both among the best at what they do. Something tells me they can find more fans. The fact is neither LeBron James nor Matador Records owe anyone anything. Sure, it would have been nice if LeBron had stayed in Cleveland and somehow won a championship on 31-year-old knees only to never walk again12. And it would have been really sweet if I had scored tickets to that Matador thing. The fact is that neither thing worked out. They were both disappointments, but that’s it.

There’s a certain amount of blind faith that is involved in fanaticism which allows people to feel they are entitled to a little payback. However, just because you  love LeBron James or Stephen Malkmus doesn’t mean you are entitled to their eternal servitude. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. You’re lucky James played seven seasons in Cleveland13. We’re lucky Malk decided to reunite Pavement14 for one last go. No one is entitled to these things.

In conclusion (because I feel this post rambling out of control), most of this disappointment could be held in check if folks had tempered their fanaticism. Fans are not entitled to anything more than what’s offered. If a band tours through your town and you’re able to go, great! If your favorite athlete chooses to sign with your hometown team and delivers a championship, fantastic! However, you are not entitled to these things. After all, it is just entertainment.

I feel lucky that LeBron James, may be the most famous person from my home state, played some pretty amazing basketball for a team in said state. I feel lucky that I have seen many of the bands in their prime that are set to play Matador’s celebration. Sure, I’m disappointed that things didn’t work out the way I would have liked, but that’s OK. There will be other athletic triumphs to enjoy and concerts to attend. I might be disappointed, but the only thing I’m entitled to do is move on.

1Yes, this is not my current home state. However, when you lived the first 30 years in a place and have a tattoo to prove it, it is forever your home state.
2They tried to build a winner, but the problem is that the Cavs were built to win this year and they failed.
3I am not a fan of such team names as Heat, Magic, and the like. Really? There’s not some endangered species or terrible cultural stereotype from which you could mine your next mascot name?
4Comic Sans is a crime against humanity.
5That’s what footnotes are for! Let’s see, there’s The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, The Burning River, The Game Seven, The Sweep, The Manny Ramirez, and now The Decision.
6Hate U, racist Chief Wahoo!
7Well, the adoration would last a while. He’d still have to win a championship, but one championship goes a long way in Cleveland.
8Who was, at one time, an 18-year-old kid in the NBA promising the same things. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t trust the 18-25 version of myself for anything.
9Which, from what I understand, was largely unclaimed after the online allotment went on sale. And the only reason Vegas was given so many tickets was because they whined about the lack of opportunity they had to score said tickets.
102,100 people to be exact.
11There was some confusion in the online ticketing system that caused some ticket-buyers to purchase more tickets and hotel rooms than they needed. For example, some people purchased four sets of four tickets and a room for four people. That’s sixteen tickets and four rooms for four people. There were some extra tickets for sale on Saturday, but I had had enough disappointment for one week.
12I suspect if James makes it to his 31-year-old bad knee self, he won’t be winning a trophy with any team.
13It should be noted that it may have been the most amazing first seven years of any NBA career in the history of the league. The kid is pretty impressive to watch.
14It probably wasn’t just up to SM, but had he said “no” there would have been no reunion.

Pavement and Girls

Posted in GenderBender, Life, Pavement by SM on July 6, 2010

Somewhere, someone has decided that girls1 don’t like Pavement. It’s a boys only club to like Pavement. Their shows are glorified sausage fests.

I know for a fact that this is not true. Regular commenter Carrie has professed a desire for a Kansas City reunion stop and often includes a Pavement track or two on her blog’s playlist. My sister is a long-time Pavement fan2. She can talk livestock all night long with Bob Nastanovich if you give her a chance. My last girlfriend before my wife joined me for the final North American Pavement show and even asked for a compilation to coincide. Today, these two Tweets ran through my feed here and here. Finally, my partner once surprised me as she took over a verse of “Cut your Hair” as we sang our daughter to sleep. She likes Pavement but is no fan. For her to just know the words out of nowhere was pretty impressive3.

So, as you can see, Pavement knows no gender lines4. They appeal to men and women. From where does this misconception come that they are only for dudes, bros, guys, etc.? I have a few theories which could probably apply to many other indie bands5, but, you know, I mostly write about this one band.

Overtly Masculine Hardcore/Punk Scenes
Pavement, although not the most masculine, hardcore, or punk band you’ll ever see/hear, definitely has roots in the scene. They rose from the ashes of eighties hardcore that helped break down barriers for 90’s indie rock. Some of that mentality bled into the newer scene. Mosh pits were tamer, but they were still there. I remember getting beat up pretty badly at a ’95 show6. Such a scene at any concert suggests overt masculinity on stage, but Pavement wasn’t the most aggressive band of their time by any means. This idea that hardcore and punk were for boys only was partially true, but with the advent of the Riot Grrrl movement and less manly groups like Pavement, it sort of died out and the audiences grew to be gender neutral, or at least gender friendly.

Boys and their Toys
I still remember the Pavement listserve7 I was on in the mid-90’s. There was a rather long debate about whether the subject of “Silence Kit” was about a guy or a girl. They went back and forth for days on this one topic. I don’t remember many of the arguments8, but one stuck out as particularly asinine. This one listserve member, obviously very proud of himself, pointed to the closing lyrics of the song:

till five hours later i’m…chewin’…screwin’ myself with my hands

The other dudes flooded the list with praise for the argument that only boys could screw themselves with their hands. Therefore, “Silence Kit/d” was a boy. Ten or so congratulatory messages later, a single female poster responded that she too could masturbate with just her hand. Crickets. Then, someone started up the topic of Pavement’s favorite word with “special” cited as the early leader9.

Lilith Fair
With the aforementioned Riot Grrrl movement, came the watered-down and rather tame Lilith Fair. This, we were told, was what women and girls liked to hear. I won’t use space to bash Lilith, except that the music generally put me and anyone else who loves music to sleep. Any self-respecting music lover – man or woman – didn’t go to Lilith for the music10. If anything, folks flocked to amphitheaters to see Sarah Mclaughlin and the Indigo Girls tear it up because it provided the only real opportunity for such a female-centric bill. Lilith had more to do with gender politics than it did good music. However, this was what we were told women and girls liked and it was nothing evenly remotely like Pavement.

They’re all in love with Stephen Malkmus. Secretly.
By “they” I mean the boys11. Never have fanboys felt this way about another man not throwing a ball or themselves into the air via large ramps. The boys want SM Jenkins for themselves. They feel girls are just lukewarm to his charm, but boys are totally gay for Malk, especially the gay ones. How can they compete with women when SM has demonstrated a preference for them? Well, they can shut the girls out. Keep them away from Pavement by any means necessary. This assures the sausage fest described above and means that one of these boys may have a chance with the man of his dreams…or at least a chance to hold hands with Mark Ibold.

Everything is about boys/men.
We do live in a patriarchy. Feminism has brought us a long way, but it’s still a man’s world. I’m not advocating for this. I want my daughter to have a fair shot in this world, but I’m a realist. Pavement is about boys and men because, well, everything is about them, us.

Regardless of whether these theories hold any truth12, Pavement is for all of us. There are messages and nuances we all can appreciate, regardless of our genitalia.

1Lower case “g” means actual girls, not the band.
2She once entered a poetry contest for the band and lost. When she confronted a couple of band members behind the venue, they claimed ignorance. I don’t know. I think they were hiding something. It was a pretty good poem.
3And reminded me that she is pretty cool despite all that professorin’ she’s always doing…No, that’s cool too.
4Aside for the fact that they are an all-male group. Stay with me here.
5Seriously, boys think they have the indie market covered, but I know plenty of women who could easily name every member of Chavez, recite the lyrics to “Conduit for Sale”, and name every Guided By Voices’ release, pre-Cobre Verde.
6Some bros even took off their shirts. Really.
7Dumbest internet tool ever. Ranks up there with discussion boards, Friendster, and blogs.
8Because it was pointless. Of course, this was a listserve (see #7).
9“Special ones, made of gold”
10OK, maybe there were some. My point is not to rip Lilith. She’s a nice lady. I just want to point out that women’s tastes in music should not have been limited to this certain aesthetic, just as I’d like you to know that not all boys grow up loving Limp Biscuit.
11And probably me a little bit. He is a pretty man.
12They almost certainly don’t.

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Decisions, Decisions

Posted in Challenge, Life, Live, Pavement by SM on June 30, 2010

So, this is happening1.

Basically every band I listened to in college (and many since) are getting together for one special weekend in Vegas. Matador, one of my all-time favorite labels, is throwing their 21st birthday bash in Sin City featuring – among others – Pavement, Guided By Voices, Sonic Youth, Belle and Sebastian, Spoon, Yo La Tengo, Cat Power, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The New Pornographers, Superchunk, Chavez, and many more yet-to-be-announced acts. I’m sure those still to be confirmed could include a reunited Helium, Liz Phair doing Exile in Guyville in its entirety, and maybe even a Sleater-Kinney2 or a Lou Reed3. Whoever fills the final bill, it will surely be one of the most amazing weekends ever for those perpetually stuck in ’90’s indie rock nostalgia4.

Now comes the decision part. Seems easy, right? Find a way to go, never regret it. Well, not so fast.

I already booked my trip to Pitchfork in Chicago in a couple of weeks5. That’s a three-day pass, train ride, and hotel stay over a long weekend that might not afford me another getaway this year. Besides the cost, there are things called “familial responsibilities” and a “job” to consider. Can I really leave my family for yet another long weekend for rock ‘n roll indulgence? Is it fair to my partner or child? Am I slacking on my work responsibilities?6

So much childcare already falls on my partner. Is it cool that I just take off for a weekend of rock shows while she’s stuck at home, alone with a two-year-old? What message does that send to my daughter that Daddy takes off for weekends at a time whenever he wishes? What about a family vacation, something we have yet to do7?

My job is another issue. I work with schools. This trip would easily require me to take two days off at maybe the busiest time of year. Am I doing a disservice to my employer and my clients by taking off at such an important time?

And back to the cost. Doing some estimates with my cousin, it’s looking like a $500-$700 trip before the tickets. After Pitchfork and all the beer and records I’ve purchased (or have committed to purchasing), my bank account is starting to dry up. I’m just ahead of my credit card, but that could shift if I fall behind at any point, easy to do with a trip coming up.

I figure I’ll have to make a few sacrifices to make this trip happen. First, there will have to be a promise that our family will travel. I’m proposing a trip to wine country over the winter holiday. My partner has always wanted to go back to that part of California and it would be a legitimate chance to get away. It may cost me more money in the long run, but it might be worth it for the sake of the familial unit8.

Work? Well, I have the days. It will be fine.

Money is a bigger issue, but I have that figured out as well. With my cellar filling up as I type this, I won’t really be in that much need of beer. I could still have a beer here and there, but the mid-week beer with dinner would stop. I would cease to buy beers just because they’re in the stores and not in my cellar. The craft beer aspect of this blog would suffer9 , but it would be in the name of the ultimate concert experience. I would surely make it up with an epic tale of indie rock excellence like no one has seen before10 .

That leads me to the payoff. I would actually put my money toward one tangible thing and not spend it willy-nilly11. My liver would surely recover as I could imagine my beer consumption to drop incredibly12. The number of records delivered to my front door would also drop, but this would allow me to appreciate the new music I am able to consume and let some of the faddish stuff pass on by13.

There really is only one choice. I just have to make it work. A slip up in finances or an inability to make a cohesive argument to my partner14 could cripple the plan before it’s hatched. It will take careful planning and persistence, but I think I’m up to the task.

Stay tuned. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Update: I have the green light. Right now, I’m just trying to figure out the details. Tickets, rooms, etc. If I write more about it, it will mean I was lucky enough to land some tickets.

1Which I basically knew once this article hit my Google Alert.
2They’re on Matador’s Euro label and have hinted at a reunion themselves.
3Reed has one release with the label.
4Which describes me perfectly. The funny thing is that I’ve seen almost all the bands mentioned so far. So, you’d think that seeing them in their primes would be enough. Apparently not.
5I’m still very excited about this festival as there are plenty of bands I already love playing as well as a few I’m interested in seeing for the first time. Plus, there is the whole Pavement and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion reunions.
6These are sad ironies for the mid-thirties indie rock geek. I can now afford to go to such events, but I don’t really have the time to do so.
7Yes, we have traveled, but other family was involved. Sure, seeing family is nice, but it’s not a vacation. Sorry, I love you all, but it’s no getaway.
8That and there are some pretty amazing breweries in wine country. So, I would not go without a luxury of my own. Russian River, here I come.
9 Of course, most of you could care less about the beer posts and I only post one to two times a week. how much suffering is that really?
10 In other words, the post for that weekend should be as epic as anything I’ll post here. The pictures alone should bring a tear to my readers’ eyes.
11 Meaning that I will not buy cups of coffee on the road or bottled water. There won’t be that lunch at Subway because I forgot to pack a meal. I’ll simply plan better or go without. It also means that I won’t buy records and beers just because I can. It will be good for my spending problems.
12My liver and my waste would benefit greatly. I’ve needed to cut back for a while now. This might be what puts me over the top.
13There are some releases by bands I know and love that will still be pre-ordered in the coming weeks no matter what I decide.
14This is harder than it sounds as she is a rhetorician by trade. She studies arguments. That’s not any easy debate to win.

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When Bands Become Conventional

Posted in Pavement, Records by SM on June 1, 2010

There was this funny phenomenon back in the day when Pavement would release an album. Fans and critics would complain that they were losing their edge and making conventional classic rock records1. Part of the “problem” was that each album’s production value improved as better recording studios became accessible to the band. They moved away from their lo-fi beginnings as they recorded on better equipment with better engineers2 turning the nobs. Also, Stephen Malkmus started crafting songs instead of just throwing sounds together over the hiss of the tape. All this growth coincided with the band becoming a proper outfit3. They left day jobs and became full-time indie rockers4.

The transformation into a conventional rock band spit in the face of everything for which their fans thought Pavement stood5. Of course, complaining about a Pavement album is a right of passage for every Pavement fan6. Those who knew them from the early Slay Tracks era hated the slick sounding Slanted and Enchanted. I remember every Pavement fan I knew hated Wowee Zowee when it was released only to love it as soon as “that piece of shit” Brighten the Corners hit the shelves. The phenomena even worked retroactively. I discovered Slanted after Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain thought it superior in every way despite my obsession with the newer record. A lot of us blamed this regression on the band giving in to traditional rock band structures, becoming a conventional rock ‘n roll band.

Of course, this was all ridiculous as each Pavement album stands on its own merit, regardless of the state of the band. In fact, one could argue that they were less of a cohesive band by their farewell album, Terror Twilight despite how so many die-hard fans complained of its adult contemporary-like accessibility. Regardless, that’s the impression fans and some critics had. Punk rock ruined us all. We love sloppy, ramshackle rock bands7. They always made us feel like we could do the same thing. We couldn’t, but the fact that our favorite bands were fuck-ups made them so attainable.

Wolf Parade is a different band. They were a combination of other bands those in the underground love(d). Each member has his share of other projects with nearly as much clout as Wolf Parade. However, none of those bands ever recorded an album as glorious as Apologies to the Queen Mary. That was their debut, relegating them to careers aimed at surpassing that achievement8. Every album the members release on their own or collectively is compared to Apologies which is too bad as each album should be judged on its own merit, within its own, unique context.

The band’s follow-up was the forgettable9 At Mount Zoomer. However, had their sophomore album been the debut of another band or a piece in any other discography, it would have hailed as a great record. It just didn’t measure up to Apologies.

Now comes Expo 86, maybe the band’s most cohesive effort to date. I still can’t tell if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. That’s why it’s taken me over a week to put these thoughts in a blog post. Despite my doubts, the album is good. I can’t wrap my head around it as of yet, but I’m working hard on this one10. I’m not getting that punch-in-the-gut feeling Apologies gave me, but there is a slight tingle.

Never have the writing and vocal styles of Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner fit together so seamlessly. I always felt their albums were battles to see which style would win out. In the end, both would go back to their various projects dejected. There, Krug and Boeckner would find themselves again and return to the fight that is a Wolf Parade record. Not so on Expo 86. I had trouble keeping score between the two primary musicians, losing track as to who was singing and whose song they were hacking. The album fits itself from beginning to end. I can’t deny the cohesion11.

Then I wonder if this is a good thing. Should I not only feel that punch in the gut but also that slap to the face? Apologies grabbed me from the opening beats. It took me to the woodshed and had its way with me. I was hypnotized despite its uneven, two-pronged attack. Of course, the cohesion on that album was somehow created from Isaac Brock’s production in which he stripped both Krug and Boeckner of their identities…but I digress12.

Expo 86 is, at the very least, worth several listens before writing it off. Some will complain about its mediocrity, that it’s neither good nor bad.

At its very best, it’s a challenging album that takes time to appreciate, an album that stays in the rotation because it’s too interesting to dismiss and thought-provoking enough to garner discussion and debate.

Either way, the transformation of Wolf Parade into a conventional, cohesive band is having an effect. Expo 86 might not be the end of this story. It might just be the beginning. The direction the band takes from here will be telling as to whether this move toward a conventional rock band is a good or bad thing. For me, Expo 86 will appreciate if the conventional turns out to be the same thing that drew me rock ‘n roll in the first place13. However, this development might just give me fodder to complain about each successive album, only appreciating the previous release once Wolf Parade releases another. Then, maybe Wolf Parade will be a lot like Pavement.

1Which is so laughable in retrospect. Pavement couldn’t make a classic rock record of they tried. And besides, what the hell is “classic rock”? I feel like it used to be the Beatles, Stones, maybe Zeppelin. Now it’s as if every hair metal band from ’83 is classic rock. Classic rock might be the worst moniker for a genre of music this side of indie, crunk, and slow-core.
2Sorry, Gary Young. You were a shitty drummer, gymnast, and record producer. Pavement was better off without your burnt-out California, gun-toting, plant man shtick.
3And by “proper”, I simply mean that they practiced a bit before they toured, maybe rehearsed before recording. I don’t think they ever all lived in the same city at the same time. Pavement might be more proper than ever just by simply doing this reunion thing.
4I believe that I read somewhere that Bob Nastanovich actually left another day job in order to join the reunion. He was maintaining some horse racing database or something.
5The emphasis should be on the what the fans thought here. I don’t think that it was ever Pavement’s collected stance to abstain from becoming a real band. They certainly toured a shit-ton in the mid-nineties and played nice with some alt-rock luminaries (sans Smashing Pumpkins, but who played nice with that asshole Billy Corgan?). Pavement were a vehicle for their fans to reject anything conventional even though the band was a pretty conventional rock outfit for the most part – dudes with guitars played loudly.
6Just wait for all the blog posts from their upcoming summer dates around the country.
7See Black Flag who was hated by their own fans once they started incorporating metal riffs and grew their hair long. Of course, we’re all thankful Henry Rollins stuck with the dirty gym shorts and didn’t discover spandex.
8Another band who did this but has failed miserably in trying to attain the same heights as their debut is Interpol. Turn on the Bright Lights is as perfect a debut as there has ever been, but when when the following two duds are taken into consideration. I haven’t heard the new Interpol record. I think it’s safe to say that it will be a dud as well.
9I only use this term because no one ever remembers this record. It had a really bad cover and strayed far from Apologies, ironically making a sound much closer to what the band members intended for their first go-around.
10I’m still listening to it constantly, trying to piece together a coherent thought beyond the coherence of the record. Is that coherent? Coherently coherent?
11Or overuse the term, apparently. That, I guess, is a characteristic/flaw of my writing. I’m redundant and use the same word over and over, in case you haven’t noticed. Good thing I don’t do this for a living.
12That’s what the footnotes are for. I actually really love what Brock did to Wolf Parade. A synth-heavy debut would have come off contrived, pretentious. Looking back, it’s actually quite surprising Brock stripped the music down so much considering his tendency to overdo it. Somehow, he made it work but at the cost of what makes the individual parts of Wolf Parade so amazing. A good topic to debate would be whether Isaac Brock ruined Wolf Parade or did he make them great?
13You know, rebellion, your parents hate it, has a good beat, danceability, etc.

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The End of the Boomer Age

Posted in Manifesto, Pavement by SM on April 2, 2010

Slate1 proclaimed that the oncoming Pavement reunion signaled “the end of baby boomer cultural hegemony” and I couldn’t be happier. We finally don’t have to be hit over the head with the British InvasionTM, WoodstockTM, MotownTM, or Vietnam® at every cultural turn and Time/Life special offer2 until our cerebrums are numb and too full to remember any of our own childhoods. Generation X is finally relevant.

I’ve felt like my entire childhood and a large part of my young adulthood has been hijacked by the Boomer Generation and resulting cultural output. I grew up thinking the Stones and Motown were the beginning and end of music3. Movies like Stand By Me and Mermaids4 dominated theaters. Rolling Stone was the cultural Bible, telling us what was hot and proclaiming the next Dylan5 or Scorsese at every turn. Boomer mainstays dominated pop culture. Boomer culture dominated society. It wasn’t my experiences that counted; it was the experiences of my parents which shaped my memories.

This appropriation of my experiences and interests has been confounded by the adoption of younger generations (including my own) of the Boomer aesthetic. I can’t go anywhere without running into a 20-year-old hippie6 or a hipster7 with a bushy mustache and afro a la 1973. And the music…Kids with iTunes libraries filled with Beatles, Doors, and Grateful Dead make me ill. All this may explain my distaste for hippies and hipsters. Watching younger generations lose their youth to Boomers frustrates the hell out of me.

So, when Slate made their proclamation, I could not fully express my relief in our culture’s escape from beneath the foot of the Boomer leviathan. Of course, with that release comes the inevitable takeover of custom by my own generation, X. While this is a good development for me and my escaping youth, it might not be very nice to those out there who are younger and trying to create their own culture and experiences8.

There has been a rash of eighties and nineties aesthetics popping up everywhere, completely ignoring any new or original thought. Besides Pavement’s reunion, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion9, Pearl Jam10, and Soundgarden are all reuniting this summer. Check the Tumblr blog Look at This Fucking Hipster for plenty of retro eighties looks. Movies like The Wackness or Clerks 211 inundate the young with Gen X with that 90’s flavor. We’re everywhere…much like the Boomers have been everywhere for the past three or so decades.

I don’t know if this is better or worse. I’m just happy that the Boomer’s stranglehold on our pop culture is over. Thank you Slate, but more importantly, thank you Pavement for ending this reign of tyranny at the hands of the Baby Boomer generation. Bring on the Generation X nostalgia12!

1Where I met my wife.
2Only four easy payments of $19.99 (+$19.99 s/h)!
3To some degree, this may be true, but we are so far removed from that era of music that I actually prefer more material from the past 15-20 years than I do from the 60’s.
4I could go on and on about movies from 1975 to 1995 that featured stories set in the 50’s or 60’s. It was as if the only worthwhile stories to be told happened when Boomers were kids.
5Granted, Dylan is a modern-day genius and living legend. I have no problem with him, except that the man now mumbles into a microphone and is handed three Grammies instantaneously just for showing up. I find him unwatchable and nearly unlistenable in recent years, meaning the last 20.
6 A distaste that has been well-documented.
7I am somewhat ambivalent about hipsters. They at least are often trying to do something new and unique. We often enjoy the same music as well. Generally, I find them quaint, even harmless.
8Primarily, my daughter. So, she will just have to grow up listening to Pavement and Guided By Voices while watching anything with Harvey Keitel’s penis or Werner Herzog eating a shoe. We Gen X’ers love that shit.
9 A Jehovah’s Witness came knockin’ on my door on a Saturday while I was laying in bed with my wife! OR Take a whiff of my pant-leg, Baby!
10Wait. Did Pearl Jam break up? They might as well have. It’s been so long since they mattered. I lost touch with them when they fought Ticketmaster…and still found a way to charge $30 a ticket for their shows.
11To reveal my age, I saw the original in the theater. We had a great art house theater across the street from my college campus. I worked in the mail room over the winter break and saw a ton of movies over those two or three weeks.
12Actually, don’t. I think I’m tired of nostalgia all together.

Perpetually Living in the Nineties

Posted in Life, Pavement by SM on March 17, 2010

In case you haven’t figured it out, I am perpetually living in the nineties. I obsess over bands who did all their best work over ten years ago; my politic is mired in the discovery of some post-something-or-other during my college days1; and I sometimes think that I’m still 22. Maybe this is what every one goes through. We all sort of stick to that time period when life was fresh and exciting, when we experienced the most as adults2.

So, when it was rumored then announced that Pavement was getting back together, I have to admit that the 22-year-old in me got a little excited3. The band that defined a decade of independent music and much of my coming-of-age years was getting back together for what seems like the unlikeliest of reunion tours4. It was as unlikely as a Pixies reunion or Slint getting back together5. They started out scheduling and promptly selling out a few dates in NYC’s Central Park a year in advance and have slowly added Australia, New Zealand, Europe, nearly every American rock festival, and a handful of US cities. To boot, they’ve even released a best-of LP as an intro to younger audiences6. It’s been a full-on media onslaught ever since.

I first saw Pavement in the summer of ’95. In fact, I saw them twice that year. They were a favorite of mine since late ’93 or early ’94, but I was hooked after seeing them live7. Over the next few years, I would see them play maybe five or six times8. The last time was their final North American date at Cincinnati’s Bogart’s. They didn’t travel through Ohio9 often, so I had to jump on every chance I got.

Honestly, I was a bit slow to the Pavement bandwagon10. I wore out a dubbed cassette copy of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, but I didn’t fully appreciate what I was hearing. Grunge bands dominated my CD collection more than anything else in those days11. It wasn’t until Wowee Zowee and the soon-to-follow shows in Cleveland and at Lollapalooza12 that I finally got what Pavement was all about.

Anyway, they’re still my favorite band. Their albums are littered among my lists of all-time favorites and I still listen to them regularly. I really haven’t moved far beyond the original lo-fi slackers of indie rock13 or their brethren. At least every other album I receive in the mail is by a band from that era or heavily influenced by SM and the boys. I like to think I’ve grown, but my taste in music suggests otherwise.

One of my opportunities to see the reunited Pavement is at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival and the bands that have me most interested are bands from…you guessed it…the nineties. Modest Mouse, who I first saw in the fall of ’9614, open the fest on Friday night before an also-reunited Jon Spencer Blues Explosion15 takes over Saturday. Pavement headlines the Sunday lineup. Sure, there are other bands16 playing the weekend-long fest in Chicago, but I am most excited about the three bands with ties to last century.

What is wrong with me? It’s not like all my living happened between 1990 and 1999. I grew up in the ’80’s. I don’t want to look like the eighties or dwell on music from that decade17, but it is a big part of me. The aughts are even more wrought with life-altering experiences. The last decade has seen me switch jobs and careers, get married, move nine-hours from my home, and become a parent18. It’s as if the Y2K bug went off in my head, making everything since seem like a hallucination.

Maybe we just stick with what we know best. It gets harder and harder to expand our knowledge base or interests as we grow older. Some of us slow more than others, but we all quit trying to some extent as our responsibilities mount and youthful exuberance fades.

Then again, I think we gravitate to what comforts us the most. It may also be what we know best, but we return for that solace and control of a well-worn pair of jeans, ratty old couch, or warped and scratched LP quicker than learning something new. Is there anything wrong with that?

The trouble happens when we try to force the “good ole days” on everyone else. We reminisce ad nauseum  about how things were better back then, completely discounting the experiences of those who are not of our generation19 but, more importantly, our own experiences before and since. Pavement and other nineties’ indie bands meant a lot to me, but that doesn’t mean a Titus Andronicus20 shouldn’t be meaningful to you or me.

Our heads begin to swell at some point with knowledge and experience, good and bad. We no longer have any room for new information, so it pours out in an effort to keep anything new from entering our consciousness.

So, I will probably continue to live in the nineties. LeBron is no Jordan. Riot Grrrls are the new face of feminism. We’d right this country’s course if Bill were in charge again. Pavement is still the best band in the world…

Don’t give up on me, though. I still have room for something new. Hell, I am in for a whole lotta new as my daughter ages. That and I still follow music, read, and generally pay attention. I may be perpetually living in the nineties, but I do have the capacity to learn and grow.

1…and cooch-flavored cigars. Sorry. Apparently my humor is also stuck in the nineties. Who could resist a Clinton/Lewingsky reference? Not this guy.
2Perceived or otherwise.
3Let’s face it. The 18-35 year old in me was excited. Still is.
4This was meant to come off as sarcastic, cynical even. The trend seems to be start a band, record one or more memorable albums, release them on an indie, create some buzz, break up, reunite once all the “money” is spent, and make some major bank.
5First, see above. Second, these two represent the two extremes of the reunited indie band. The Pixies pieced together several classic records and toured the shit out of their livers and waistlines. Then, they reunited…twice. Slint, on the other hand, really only recorded one great album. Sure, it was Spiderland, but it was only one album and a smattering of shows. They were able to garner a lot of fame and cash from that one release. Of course, it was Spiderland.
6And, in all honesty, for pathetic losers like me who will buy said greatest hits collection even though I own a copy of every track on that comp.
7Despite the stories of terrible live shows which often featured sub-par drumming and SM chastising other band members for not playing their parts correctly, a Pavement set was a memorable rock show.
8I’m never quite sure of the number. I do know that I didn’t see them ten or more times and it was certainly no less than five. Similarly, I saw Guided By Voices well over ten, twelve times, but I’m not sure how many. It’s also like that for Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. I told you that I was stuck in the nineties.
9This explains the number of GBV shows in my pocket.
10So slow that I remember turning down a chance to see them in an art gallery in the spring of ’94. I either didn’t have any money (maybe a $4 cover) or was with a girl or a combination of the two.
11Remember, it was the nineties. Grunge cannot be held against me. That and the number of flannel shirts I wore.
12This was the Lollapalooza that they were blamed for destroying. However, I seem to remember a pregnant Sinead O’Connor playing either just before or right after Pavement. Just sayin’.
13Sorry. Somewhere it is written that the words “slacker” and “lo-fi” must accompany everything said on the Internet and/or glossy magazines concerning Pavement. I believe Spin proclaimed this in 1994.
14Completely by accident. A local band I liked was opening for this “mouse band” at Bernie’s. At a friend’s urging, I hung around to stand behind a pole, completely unaware of what was about to be unleashed. I know that it is hard for folks to imagine a time when Modest Mouse was edgy and punk, but I assure you, dearest reader, it happened.
15The Hipsters have no idea what’s about to happen to them. Jon Spencer will make them submit to his every whim. Judah Bauer will strike fear into every dude with a mustache and Russel Simmons will induce migraines with every blow to his kit. You’ve been warned, Chicago…in a footnote of a blog no one reads, but you’ve been warned.
16I’m most excited/interested to hear/see Broken Social Scene, Bear in Heaven, Titus Andronicus, Panda Bear, CAVE, Sleigh Bells, Here We Go Magic, Cass McCombs, Girls, Lightning Bolt, and St. Vincent.
17I’m not counting anything from the hardcore scene or Manchester, England. Those are things I discovered much later and still enjoy. My musical tastes were limited to whatever Casey Kasem brought me on Sunday mornings.
18All long stories which will more than likely not be discussed on this blog.
19That’s X for those of you who are keeping score. Technically, I’m on the tail-end of GenX, like my parents are barely Boomers.
20I am loving their new record. A review will follow shortly. Hopefully.