Pavement Review – Cool Detachment Meets Raucous Energy in Melbourne
Pavement played at the Palais Theatre, St Kilda, on Friday, 3rd March. Conall Cash reviews.
Pavement famously ended their career with a show in which Stephen Malkmus put a pair of handcuffs on his mic stand, declaring them a symbol for “what it’s like being in a band all these years.” More than twenty years and two reunion tours later, time seems to have healed these wounds.
While nostalgic reunion tours are a dime a dozen, there was a rare kind of goofy fun on display at the sold-out Palais Theatre. The band who once bade “goodnight to the rock‘n’roll era” now seem happy just to put on a good rock show (guitarist Spiral Stairs even paid tribute to Melbourne venues The Old Bar and The Tote, made all the more timely by recent threats of the latter’s closure).
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The genius of Pavement has always been in their oscillation between irony and sincerity; or rather, in their layering of the two. Malkmus’ lyrics remain both inscrutable and emotionally palpable, piling up singular details and off-hand remarks that produce an unexpected catharsis, as if sincerity has found a way to express itself through irony rather than against it.
Malkmus’ cool detachment needs to rub off against the raucous energy of bandmates like percussionist and hype guy Bob Nastanovich, who spent the show running a muck across the stage, tambourine in hand, at one point demanding to know if there were any “self-declared” hippies in the crowd.
In the nineties, Pavement made fun of bands like the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots. In 2023, they took aim at the Foo Fighters, Spiral commiserating with the crowd that Dave Grohl’s band were the first to visit us after international borders re-opened. Singing a few lines from the Foos’ debut record, Malkmus summed them up: “The lyrics on that album are even less than mine.” Whether caustic, cryptic, or goofy, these guys like to have fun on stage, at their own expense as much as that of their peers.
I was wondering what song they’d end with: based on recent setlists, it seemed a toss-up between ‘Fillmore Jive,’ the aforementioned farewell to rock‘n’roll that closes Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, and ‘Fin,’ the conclusion to Brighten the Corners, which begins with an “open call for prison architects.” Instead, they closed with a cover of Jim Pepper’s ‘Witchi Tai To’, an unexpectedly hushed chant revolving around the line “makes me feel glad that I’m not dead.”
Pavement aren’t likely to write any new songs together, but Pepper’s song gave them access to a kind of joy that might be what they’ve always looked for in their own music, though they would never let on.
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