Remember that ridiculous press cycle for Arcade Fire’s last record? Seems like you couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting some inane publicity stunt disguised as click bait to get you to pay attention to that turd of a record. While not on that same ubiquitous scale, the push for Sparkle Hard found Steve Malkmus talking to journalists for large features from somewhat unlikely publications such as The New York Times, Washington Post, and GQ as well as a guest DJ slot on All Songs Considered where he totally flummoxed host Bob Boilen. (It’s really funny and I highly suggest listening to it.)
Happily, the new record is not a weak mish-mash of unrealized ideas spiked with a catchy or song two and is certainly one of his best solo records yet. Malkmus and his Jicks made their way back to town and of course the new record was going to be a centerpiece of the night; why wouldn’t it? The slight spanner in the works was Steve’s failing larnyx, which konked out the night before in Montreal and forced the encore to consist of an all-Pavement set with guest vocals handled by various fans.
It never devolved quite to that level but Malkmus did recount going to see someone in town, hoping that they’d cure it by jamming an octopus down his throat to pull out the offending affliction. I guess the cephalopod medical science/voodoo scene is a tad weak in Boston. Acknowledging his lack of midrange, Malkmus stuck mainly to not-quite-a-falsetto or the occasional dip into bullfrog frequencies and for the most part it worked just fine. Some of the better moments from Sparkle Hard favor a higher voice anyways, with “Middle America” or the truly sublime “Solid Silk” really hitting the mark. I figured that a potential strategy of minimizing vocals could mean a revision of the set list to include some jammers like “1% Of One,” “No More Shoes,” or “Real Emotional Trash” but alas the only time Malkmus activated his inner-Garcia was on the fade out of the Pavement classic “Shady Lane” where he took a few wildly diverging turns before finally pulling into the driveway and parking in the garage. Thanks for coming by, Steve and your fellow Jicks. See you next record.
Lithics took the stage first, fellow Portlanders who like Pavement have a deep and abiding faith in the music of Mark E. Smith. Theirs is fashioned more on the sharp, staccato attack like “Bingo Master’s Breakout” with a heavy dash of Shoes This High or The Raincoats mixed in, rather than the shambling melodic template that Malkmus et al favored. Aubrey Hornor’s steely gaze fixed straight ahead as she delivered bloodless vocals with a dead-pan stare while playing super minimal one string guitar lines, sometimes with a slide. The heavy lifting regarding song melody was done by the very fluid bass lines of Bob Desaulniers, whose mother happened to be in attendance. Though he jokingly half-apologized to her (and by default, the rest of the room) for playing music they’d likely not cotton to, it was refreshing to see a band take some chances with their sound.
Slideshow of both bands:
Created with flickr slideshow.