Pavement/Jenny and Johnny
East River State Park
Sunday, September 19
Better Than: You probably would’ve guessed
Pavement have arrived. At last. The bad news is they played virtually ever other major city on earth first; the good news is they’re now officially… uh, “well oiled” is probably overstating it, but as we begin with “Cut Your Hair,” and Stephen Malkmus rips into the guitar solo with way more more aplomb and enthusiasm than 10 years of band retrospectives have taught you to expect, you appreciate that they had all that practice.
Yes, Pavement’s reputation is such that the fact that all five dudes seem to be tremendously enjoying themselves tonight comes as somewhat of a shock. And while Malkmus is great fun to watch — bantering blithely (“I’ve got powdered sugar all over my shirt”), fake-stretching as Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg takes over lead vocals for “Date With IKEA” (“I love working out to that song”), shredding through noodle-y interludes with just a whiff of guitar-god theatricality, crooning “Spit on a Stranger” like he actually means whatever that song means — your Pavement Live MVP is one Bob Nastanovich, the auxiliary guy, who seems, in the best way possible, to be actively trying to sabotage the band. He shouts along to “Cut Your Hair,” contributes both harmonica and BOOGABOOGABOOGA backing vocals to “Rattled by the Rush,” plays a tiny secondary drum kit, screams the chorus to “Unfair,” hammers a cowbell and shouts YAH YAH YAHHHHHHOOOOO” on “Silence Kid,” dances onstage with an actual woman during “We Dance,” and chats with the crowd about Biohazard and the Titans-Steelers game. Among other stuff. Whatever his cut of the spoils here, he’s earned it.
They sound great — “tight,” in scare quotes. “Grounded” is free to be the showstopping power ballad, “In the Mouth a Desert” the fist-pumping rocker, “Range Life” the crowd sing-a-long (“Don’t worry! We’re in no hurry!”). Per Malkmus’ past decade of solo stuff, there’s lots of prog-ish meandering, “Fight This Generation” and “Fin” and “We Dance” particularly abstract and diffuse, more like a loose-limbed, vaguely unorganized jam band than not. Which you start to get into, eventually. What’s more surprising is how soft and delicate they’re capable of being: “Grounded” especially, but also the stealthily gorgeous “Starlings of the Slipstream,” the equal in beauty to even “Gold Soundz,” the greatest song of the ’90s. Having studiously avoided any reports on their shows this year to date, both to contain jealousy and conserve the surprise, I’m not sure where this show falls on their 2010 spectrum (they were better in Barcelona than Chicago, apparently), but after a jagged, thrilling “Rattled by the Rush,” Malkmus mutters off-mic that “That was in the upper 80 percent of that song.” This is the equivalent of “fuck yeah” for any other band. Have fun in Central Park this week, everybody.
Your openers tonight are Jenny and Johnny — Lewis and Rice, respectively — doing their jangly, saucy Laurel Canyon Rock 2010 thing, their voices meshing into a sweet snarkiness (“Committed” is a trip) that’ll make their I’m Having Fun Now a year-end favorite amid the Paste magazine set, wherever now they may roam. (Here’s a video of the whole thing paying on a tape deck.) When Lewis intros one song with “This is for all you Minor Threat fans out there,” you’re not sure whether to take her seriously or not, but that’s part of the fun. Their big financial-crisis single “Big Wave” suffers a bit without studio oomph, but gets over just fine in front of an audience not particularly expecting oomph of any kind but quite pleased to eventually get some anyway.
Critical Bias: Know most of the words, don’t know what any of them mean.
Random Notebook Dump: Lotta little kids at this, seemingly none of them awake.
Overheard: “‘Poop Ship’! You guys are Ween, right! Yeah! Grateful Dead!”
“Cut Your Hair”
“Date With IKEA”
“Rattled by the Rush”
“Elevate Me Later”
“Fight This Generation”
“Father to a Sister of Thought”
“In the Mouth a Desert”
“Spit on a Stranger”
“Starlings of the Slipstream”