Considering that Stephen Malkmus’s former band was once the background to a thousand college DJs’ late-night, dank-bar discussions about the merits of the Fall’s mid-period, it’s notable that nowadays Malkmus is a standard for breezy pop. Summer hit hard last week, making the timing perfect for this sold-out lovefest. (But openers Paik? Not so summery. The Detroit trio traffics in sprawling psych-drones of wandering guitar harmonics over sampled wandering guitar harmonics, and lots of mud-stuck stances waiting for the bass samples to kick in: a good setup for Malkmus and the Jicks.)
Malkmus ended the opening “Mama,” a splendid falsetto-crooned sunset stroll from his new Face the Truth, with a slight ’tweren’t-nuthin’ shimmy and smirk. “Loud Cloud Crowd” ascended from morose rumbling to aching beauty and back down. The spy movie guitar rush of “Dark Wave” jumped right into “It Kills,” which alone nicked bits of “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and Pylon’s collegiate fuzz-folk before settling into the ’70s L.A. sunset beach bum strum that’s always been Malkmus’s toehold. He is as inventive a pop songwriter as we’ve got, but he never gets swept up enough to really let the wind clear the cooties. His inspiration springs from a genetic (or generational—or OK, slacker) modesty that holds back transcendence. But at this stage in the game it’s his best asset—an everyman “What am I doing up here?” aura that supplies the infectiousness.
Drummer John Moen knows what he’s doing up there—namely having a ball, as he lays down an unfettered boom that never fumbles. In fact, for music that increasingly invites dippy noodling—and fans who might like it that way—the Jicks reined in the jam tendencies. At least until the end, as the encore devolved into a long boogie beat-around as if Irving’s gonzo light show was melting the Jicks into the Doobie Brothers. Moen was left alone fumbling around the stage, laying his head on the keyboards and generally goosing the persistent crowd to beat it, like: “Hey, it’s summertime, you’re supposed to be outside cruisin’ with the top down.”