In his 2007 book Love Is A Mixtape, author Rob Sheffield describes his introduction to Pavement, the ’90s indie rock band that put singer/songwriter Stephen Malkmus on the musical map:
Our friend Joe in New York sent us a tape, a third-generation dub of the Pavement album Slanted And Enchanted. Renee and I decided this was our favorite tape of all time. The guitars were all boyish ache and shiver. The vocals were funny bad poetry sung through a Burger World drive-through mike. The melodies were full of surfer-boy serenity, dreaming through a haze of tape hiss and mysterious amp noise. This was the greatest band ever, obviously. And they didn’t live twenty years ago, or ten years ago, or even five years ago. They were right now. They were ours.
Pavement has since remained Sheffield’s band; a quick Google search will reveal his lifelong obsession with the group, both as a pseudo-celebrity music writer and a passionate fan. Saturday night’s Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks show at The Back Room @ Colectivo was a reminder that Malkmus himself is a musician who belongs to a certain group of people—even 20 years after Pavement’s tragically early demise.
As a twenty-something spring chicken, Sheffield first saw Pavement in the early 1990s. Today, the writer is 52 years old; his passion for Pavement mirrors that of his peers. Though The Back Room was mostly a sea of salt and pepper hair, there was a surprising amount of younger fans who came out to see Malkmus alongside people who could easily be their parents.
Pavement is one of those bands with an infamous, well-deserved cult following. The early 1990s admittedly didn’t provide much rock music worth writing home about (sorry, Mr. Vedder). The lighthearted, earnest four-piece offered a light at the end of the scuzzy grunge-rock tunnel. Many a music critic has crowned Pavement the best band of the 1990s, and that sentiment is objectively accurate (sorry, Mr. Cobain).
Malkmus became an indie rock hero for his comical earnestness, slick guitar riffs, and almost dissociative singing style. Pavement broke up in 1999, and his solo effort The Jicks have been a band for significantly longer than Pavement even existed. Malkmus continues to be idolized through the ups and downs of his long career; the band very quickly sold out The Back Room, a venue certainly too small for Malkmus’ legacy and impact.
Portland post-punkers Lithics warmed up the crowd before Malkmus and company took the stage. The band was an all-too-appropriate choice for an opener. Their late ’80s, Pixies-esque punk was refreshingly straightforward, reminiscent of the long-gone time when Pavement was on top of the world. Aubrey Hornor’s atonal crooning mirrored a Stop Making Sense-era David Byrne; the band’s influences are no secret.
As soon as Malkmus appeared on stage, audience members immediately began talking at him, in a comically conversational tone. Yep, people are close to Malkmus, and that intimacy was obvious almost instantly. Malkmus is still the same cool guy that he was in 1989, and the most wonderfully satisfying part of the show was hearing his voice in person. Almost 30 years after Pavement’s first record, his voice still sounds as pure and angsty as ever. In fact, it sounds even better live than it does on those early recordings.
For anyone who may not be familiar with Malkmus’ solo work, the show was a great gateway into his breadth of post-Pavement tunes. A few of the Jicks’ albums have been criticized for being too self-serving, but their most recent release, Sparkle Hard, finds Malkmus in a political position. That currency was mirrored in Malkmus’ stage presence; he joked about Tide Pods and “manspreading” throughout the set. His signature casualness was evident, and he’s as lovable as ever.
Not many “older” (read: middle-aged) musicians can nail angst when they’re older (see: Tom Delonge), even if that is their signature thing (see also: Billy Joel Armstrong). Unlike many of his contemporaries, Malkmus continues to radiate that infamous ’90s angst flawlessly. He’s not a 45-year-old man singing about falling in love with girls at the rock show, and thank God for that. Stephen Malkmus is a tried-and-true, timeless indie rock crooner whose talent is seemingly ageless.