Pavement and No Age at Pabst Theater
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One of the most self-conscious bands of the most self-conscious period in rock history, Pavement knows better than anybody that its current reunion tour is to balding ’90s indie-rock dudes what the Beach Boys are to pot-bellied baby-boomers. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that—in fact, the band seemed to embrace it Tuesday at Pabst Theater, playing greatest hits that weren’t really hits as well as equally beloved deep cuts with the steely-eyed ponderousness and stern craftsmanship of 40something-year-old dads wailing on “Sunshine Of Your Love” over a case of Natty Light down in the rec room.
As always, Pavement’s irreverent, “we’re just fucking around up here” attitude turned bum notes and dropped vocals into aesthetic pluses. Even more so, it was a reminder of a simpler, willfully amateurish time in indie rock, when affecting the pompous, messianic posturing of contemporary bands like Arcade Fire wouldn’t have only been embarrassing, but nonsensical. Pavement is certainly aware of its own rich history—Tuesday’s expansive set list, which stretched generously over two hours, could have been taken from an obsessive fan’s iTunes Pavement playlist—but the band was blessedly unconcerned with asserting its “importance,” a frequent downfall of retrospective jaunts like this.
So, when Stephen Malkmus warbled the opening lines of “Gold Soundz,” which was recently bestowed the very serious honor of being named the best song of the ’90s by Pitchfork, he seemed to go out of his way to not sound rehearsed or in any way impressed with what he created 16 years ago. The beat was a little off, the guitars never quite interlocked, and the vocals moved in and out of rhythm. Of course, being slightly out of the pocket for Pavement means you’re really in the pocket; the miracle of Tuesday’s show was just how tight the band was in its un-tightness. Venerable favorites like “Cut Your Hair” and “Summer Babe” would lose something if they were played too well after several days on the road, but Pavement endearingly approaches its back catalog not as sacred texts, but as Mad Libs, scribbling silliness in the margins and cracking themselves up.
The band members—who didn’t exactly leave each other on the best of terms the first time around—frequently clowned around between and even during songs. Stephen Malkmus set the tone for unabashedly awkward hipster-guy dancing that most of the crowd, sadly, decided not to emulate. Maybe they were just intimidated—Malkmus might’ve been a pioneer in taking the piss out of rock-star affectations, but he remains a strikingly handsome and helplessly cool frontman in the most conventional sense possible. (His behind-the-back guitar solo on “Grounded” was maybe 50 percent ironic at the most.) While guitarist Scott Kannberg and bassist Mark Ibold kept a low profile, dutifully drawing the music into increasing levels of off-kilter tunefulness, multi-instrumentalist Bob Nastanovich stepped in as Malkmus’ on-stage foil and Pavement’s all-around hype man, bashing away on a modest drum kit and dropping random explosions of shouty backing vocals. It’s like they never broke up—or even played a show before this one. In other words, it was everything you could hoped for from a Pavement reunion gig.
Openers No Age might technically be a younger band than Pavement, but its music actually sounds older, drawing on the fuzzy pop-noise of ’80s post-punk standard-bearers Husker Du and Mission Of Burma. Drawing mostly from the new Everything In Between, No Age played excellent ear candy that busted your eardrums, powering through a terrific set for a frustratingly disinterested crowd that seemed reluctant to hear any songs it didn’t already know from college.