OK. I’ll just get this out of the way before we go on. It’s kind of embarrassing. I never really spent much time listening to Pavement growing up. Whew! Glad we got that out of the way. But just because I am relatively ignorant to Pavement (yes, of course I’ve listened to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain) doesn’t mean I don’t realize their great significance in indie rock history. I didn’t end up going to one of the five New York shows this week, but I do know a few people who did. Here’s what they had to say.
Stephen Malkmus of Pavement (Photo Nadia Chaudhury)
Matt Yu, graphic designer
“Intimate” is the one word I would use to describe the experience of seeing Pavement. Surprising, as I wouldn’t have thought I could ever use that word for a big sold-out Central Park show. The truth is, I’d never been to a concert with such positive vibes from everyone around me—singing along, smiling, floating down memory lane. But the sentiment really trickled down from the way the band acted on stage. They made jokes, took their time between songs, and seemed relaxed and at ease. I found myself wondering what their older concerts would’ve been like, when hotter blood and stronger egos may have been on display.
One thing about the lighting—I liked the setup they created with the drooping strings of lamps. It effectively negated the vastness of the stage and made it feel like a big little Cake Shop.
A friend on Twitter wrote that it felt like he was going to a free show at this point, because he paid for the tickets so long ago.
Lars Gotrich of NPR Music and Thor’s Rubber Hammer
Sucker that I am, I bought my ticket to see Pavement over a year ago when we all thought Central Park was the reunion concert, not the dozens of others that popped up everywhere else beforehand, including a free show just 40 minutes away at Merriweather Post Pavilion going on as I type. But I’ll take just about any excuse to hit up Uniqlo for my twice-a-year clothes-shopping spree and a good beer (or four) at Washington Commons in Prospect Heights. I went Wednesday night, which had the distinct pleasure of being the night it rained. Oh, it was never nasty, just constant, enough to soak my shirt and make any breeze a chilled body, plus delay the concert mid-play.
Reunion shows are weird, though. It’s always satisfying, but predictable. We’ve lived with these songs a long time — they’re a consciousness of indie-rock that’s stuck in the ear canal of every Chuck Taylor’d kid. Granted, most of the crowd wasn’t around or paying attention when Pavement was originally a thing (I wasn’t), but Pavement’s Indie-Rock 101. You’re given a copy of Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain on the first day of class and tumblr-ing dirty Serge Gainsbourg television appearances within two weeks. At the Central Park SummerStage, between shivers, every song sounded as I expected. I couldn’t help but feel conflicted about the whole thing. Some reunions do it right by capturing the original spirit while admitting reflection (case in point: Frodus’ “secret show” at Murky Coffee last year), but as much as I liked singing along to “Stereo” and thinking that Bob Nastanovich (the Flava Flav of Indie-Rock) should do a drums/yelling LP, I was ultimately bored by the whole thing. Maybe Pavement was, too.
When Pavement tickets went on sale in Fall ’09, I quickly (disbelievingly) snatched up two tickets to the Wednesday night show, thinking one set would be enough for this casual Pavement fan. Fast forward to the concert approximately one year later: rain-drenched and beaming after two hours of face-melting rawk, I’m already plotting my return. Both Wednesday and Friday night‘s sets were loud, sloppy, ecstatic, rickety and, above all else, transcendent. Pavement (Mk. II) was in high spirits both nights, playing setlists heavy on Slanted and Crooked Rain to eager, energetic crowds.
Stephen Malkmus’ guitar has never sounded better. Find a recording from Wednesday night and listen to the “Stop Breathing” outro, ’cause the Malkmus/Kannberg interplay is breathtaking. The lead vocals were a little ragged, taking on a Wayne Coyne-esque rasp on the high notes, but they were always supported by the audience and its surrogate, Bob Nastanovich. [A word about Bob: Just what an awesome guy. Screamed his little heart out and added some nice touches to a number of the classics. Basically, the band’s manic, goofy ambassador.] While the band was generally tight (relatively), there were a number of false starts, including one on Friday night before “Elevate Me Later” that had Malkmus frozen in apparent contempt of his band for ten seconds or so, eventually easing into a smile and counting Westy in for the second time.
Both shows were outstanding. I think Wednesday night had the better audience (the camaraderie of the rain-soaked masses) and Friday night had the better set (and weather). Song highlights included everything. I was frequently caught off-guard by songs I hadn’t previously cared about that suddenly made complete sense in a live setting, including but not limited to: “Starlings Of The Slipstream,” “Fight This Generation,” “Unfair” and “Grounded.” Spiral Stairs’ songs stood out, too (“Date With Ikea,” “Kennel District”). I’m seriously bummed I can’t see this band again next week, and the week after that. Magical nights. There was something about hearing everybody sing, “School’s out, what did you expect?” during “Range Life.” It felt like Pavement claiming their second zeitgeist.
Did you go? What did you think?