Wednesday, March 04, 2009

25 Feb 2009: Stephen Malkmus

25 February 2009
Stephen Malkmus
Great American Music Hall
859 O'Farrell Street (btwn Polk & Larkin) [Map]

I went into this show with low expectations, not because I thought it wouldn't be good, but because I'm a huge Pavement fan and Malkmus has long moved on to his Jicks material. Going to a Malkmus show hoping to hear a set riddled with Pavement's greatest hits is a great way to set yourself up for disappointment. There has been one famous show (famous to Pavement fans, anyway) with the Jicks, in 2003, where they played all Pavement songs in chronological order of their release. It's been called "The Milwaukee Show." As far as I know, such a thing has not happened since.

Yet—and much to the chagrin of a couple of friends who arguably love Pavement even more than I do but skipped the show expecting Malkmus to try out new Jicks songs—Malkmus played a mostly Pavement set. Maybe it was Noise Pop, or maybe it was all the buzz a year ago about a potential Pavement reunion. Or maybe he just felt like taking those of us who are old enough to remember when Pavement was a band on a trip down a shady memory lane. Regardless, Malkmus gave the Pavement fans in the room something to talk about for a long time to come.

Malkmus came out with his MacBook and explained that since he was unable to find a pen backstage he had to type the setlist. I suck at writing down setlists in general, but in this case I was completely unprepared for what was happening, so I must credit Hippies Are Dead for recording a reliable setlist. Malkmus opened with "Harness Your Hopes," the B-side of Pavement's "Spit on a Stranger" EP. I thought this was a fluke. Next came "Us," a Malkmus & the Jicks track and "Blue Arrangements," a Silver Jews song. After the song ended, Malkmus muttered "That was the Silver Jews. They broke up. All we can do now is mine their catalog." Sadness.

With the exception of "Pink India," the next five songs were all Pavement: "Spit on A Stranger," "Starlings of the Slipstream," "Fin," and "Range Life," a song to which everyone in the room knew all the words. I no longer thought the first Pavement song was a fluke. He returned to the Jicks catalog for "Real Emotional Trash," back to Pavement for "Loretta's Scars," threw in a cover, then Pavement's "Lions (Linden)" and "Freeze the Saints," another Jicks song. The rest of the set went like this: "Shoot the Singer" (Pavement), "Zurich is Stained" (Pavement), "Heaven is a Truck" (Pavement), "Vanessa from Queens" (Jicks)," and "Here" (Pavement).

At some point during the middle of the set Malkmus broke a guitar string and spent four minutes replacing it with the wrong string, a mistake he blamed on nerves and the high quality of the pot the kids in the front row were smoking. He borrowed Kelley Stoltz's guitar for the next song while the stage crew restrung his, but instead of taking his back, finished the set on Stoltz's Gibson.

The encore started with two hilarious but oddly great covers. First, O'Jays' "Love Train," then "Emotional Rescue" by the Rolling Stones. Refusing several requests shouted from the audience because they'd be almost impossible to play acoustic, Malkmus decided to close with "Summer Babe."

This was admittedly the first time I've seen Malkmus live and I got really, really lucky. I can't remember the last time I was at a show where so many people shouted so many lyrics. It was a Pavement sing-along. He is the kind of performer who knows that his audience is on the verge of worship and appreciates it, but also seems to be somehow gracious about it.

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