“Don’t worry, we’re in no hurry.” The music world’s most famous slackers were in such a non-hurry that they had to cut two songs written on their set list but that didn’t stop Wednesday’s show from being a spectacular success. Not too many bands do a second victory lap with such a span of years between them, and the only other bands I could think of are The Sex Pistols and The Jesus Lizard. The Pistols were not shy about their motivation on their first reunion, labeling it as The Filthy Lucre tour but Pavement’s motivations for this run aren’t similar (though I imagine none of the band members are unhappy with this year’s revenue stream).
Knowing that quarantining the past is futile, they’ve instead embraced the present. Their planned re-entry to the stage was initially limited to two Primavera appearances in 2020 but those plans got obliterated and they decided to do the full US and European tours after those two festival shows earlier this summer. For anyone who saw the 2010 reunion, the differences couldn’t be starker. It’s not that the band sounded bad on that tour, but by the time I caught two of the shows it was clear that Steve Malkmus had totally checked out. Before they played a single note at Agganis, Malkmus showed his opinion via the hand gesture that naughty kids at the playground use to signify sexual congress; a couple weeks later at what looked to be their last US performance at Matador 21 in Vegas, Malkmus decided to roll around on his back and stop playing when Spiral Stairs sang “Kennel District.” The wheels had left the axle.
The vibe this time was worlds apart, and in an interview with The Guardian just before the Primavera gigs, Malkmus admitted as much: “We get a chance to relive the material and perhaps animate it for the present. It does feel like I’m wrenching more from our music than before. And I’m not just saying that – it really is working for me.” The rumors of wide-ranging rehearsals have been borne out and the sheer number of songs played on this tour is frankly pretty eye-opening, especially for hardcore Pavement fans. Boston was rewarded with the first post-1996 performance of “Half A Canyon,” the meandering jam from 1995’s Wowee Zowee that catches on fire on the second half and had Bob Nastanovich stalking the stage with maracas in hand.
Sometimes Nastanovich’s presence as hype man when he’s not playing the second drum kit can have a bit of a loose cannon feel to the proceedings but he reigned it in pretty well tonight and was really effective on “Unfair,” perhaps the only indie rock song to presage water rights conflicts in California. Less effective was “Fight This Generation” and that surprised me but it was lacking the punch it normally has; I can’t pin it on Nastanovich’s use of the slide whistle which actually kicked ass. Every era was represented and Malkmus mentioned they were gonna keep it old school when they kicked into “Heckler Spray” from the Perfect Sound Forever 10″. Somewhat surprisingly they didn’t spent too much time on material from their final record, Terror Twilight, which was reissued in deluxe box set form with loads of demos and some live tracks, as well as producer Nigel Godrich’s originally proposed track listing. But even if we didn’t get “Cream Of Gold” or “Platform Blues” a heavy dose of Malkmus’ guitar prowess was on offer during “The Hexx” and he really went out into new areas during “Type Slowly.” Watching him evolve from a primitive Fall disciple into a wildly creative guitarist has been a very enjoyable journey.
Mentioning their first show in Boston, Malkmus joked that a lot of bad shit went down at the Middle East but also good shit, like Mission of Galaxie Tom and they dedicated a song to Buffalo Tom before launching into “Kennel District.” Glad to report that Malkmus stood upright and played his parts to the Spiral Stairs composition this time.
There hasn’t been a dedicated opener for the US tour and Pavement has been sprinkling in some underappreciated bands as they hop from city to city. Tonight the noise rock-now dance band Guerilla Toss got the honors and Kassie Carlson and crew played a bouncing and raucous set to get things going. They commented that they’d never play as nice a venue again and that is probably a correct assessment. The Wang is a well appointed venue and the sound is generally spot-on but the bass was overpowering and boomy during Guerilla Toss’ set and sadly didn’t improve much during Pavement’s set aside from the encore, when the sound guy finally figured it out. The only downer of a fantastic show.