Writing about Pavement‘s Thursday-night show at the Fox Theater in Pomona, after waiting more than 14 years to have a chance to hear the band that has singularly most influenced my musical taste, well, it’s like those assignments you had in fifth grade in which you’re asked to write about what your country means to you or the meaning of Christmas: summing up on a page what you could write a book about. As much as the devoted fans rave about the band, the majority of the people you will meet on the street have never heard of Pavement, and not just old people; the majority of people I told I was seeing Pavement had no idea. It is almost unfathomable that Pavement’s cult following found the band without the Internet. It is seemingly easy to avoid hearing of the band, yet somehow through college radio and word of mouth, Pavement was able to draw a mild fan base that has grown considerably over the years. Makes bands these days seem pretty damn lucky.
But despite how fun, chill-inducing, funny, and professional the show was, there were the necessary drawbacks. The venue is a recently restored theater owned by the Goldenvoice crew to accompany The Glass House, Pomona’s smaller venue. The town of Pomona is about a half-hour east of downtown L.A., still in L.A. County but the gateway to the Inland Empire, where farmers cultivate methamphetamine and most of those old backyard wrestling videos are filmed. Pomona as a town doesn’t feel like L.A.; when Pavement had trouble selling out this 2000-person capacity venue, the reason was probably that Los Angelinos don’t want to drive what could be an hour-and-a-half trip. We’re a spoiled people, but are you really surprised?
It was my first time at this venue, and while it was beautiful in its restored architecture, had a killer rooftop smoking patio with the concert projected on a wall, had terrific sound, and offered free parking where you could find it, I would prefer never going back there. Like The Wiltern, it has the staggered platform standing space, which makes it an awesome environment for about 10 percent of the attendees and the rest of us are consistently wondering what the band looks like. But that’s when you go to a ”concert” and not a “show.” I like shows. The drinks are cheaper, the people are friendlier, and the bands usually have more to prove.
Which brings me to my biggest reservation about a Pavement reunion: How depressing is it to watch past-their-prime artists try to re-create the glory years? The irony of Pavement’s greatest-hits collection, and I doubt I am the first person to point this out, is the title Quarantine the Past. Taken from the song “Gold Soundz”, it is part of my favorite Pavement line (out of dozens of classics), which begins, “You’re the kind of girl I like, because I’m empty and you’re empty and you can never quarantine the past,” meaning two things: These two empty people don’t carry the baggage most do, but the past will creep back in when you least expect it. Naming the album simply Quarantine the Past makes it seems like this is now something that can be done both on CD and in live shows.
And thank God they did it now and not in another ten years. Not to be rude about our fathers and grandfathers, but rock ‘n roll is a young person’s game. And no matter how great Pavement was (and they were flat-out great), I’d still rather hear one of today’s best bands performing new material, while it is still fresh and while they are still responsible as “artists” and not just as musicians. And don’t think I’m unfair calling out the boys here; Stephen Malkmus said virtually the same thing in a recent interview with Chuck Klosterman. A great rock ‘n roll album can make you feel young, no matter how old you are, becuase the youth of the artists is engrained in the music. But listening to 20-year-old songs will just make you remember your youth, and I’m too damn young for nostalgia.
Pavement balanced this carefully, seemingly aware of both the magnitude of this event for the fans and the financial benefit that could come if they killed it. Malkmus was the most reserved, barely speaking to the fans throughout the night, with “auxiliary drummer” Bob Nastanovich and guitarist Spiral Stairs taking the role of band spokespeople. But Malkmus didn’t seem to hate being in Pavement as much as he hated the expectations. I’ve seen him with the Jicks and know he can be an engaging speaker, but tonight seemed to be about (and I can’t believe I am saying this about Pavement) sounding good. Malkmus loosened up more and more as the show went on, having fun on the trio of Spiral Stairs songs by kicking his legs, swinging his guitar like a baseball bat, and flat-out trying hard. Beavis and Butthead would be proud.
But what Stephen Malkmus left on the table in engagement, he made up for in chops. “Rattled by the Rush” killed as Malkmus nailed the outro with precision you couldn’t find on a Pavement record. In fact, many of the most musically satisfying moments of the night were when all three singers would shut up and show that the weeks 0f rehearsal actually worked. In fact, there were only a few minor moments where the band had to communicate verbally, usually feeling each other out with their instruments (the biggest blunder was a false start to “Trigger Cut”, which thankfully they had the grace to simply take from the top). The band got tighter, more confident, and more enthusiastic as the night went on (Bob Nastanovitch was enthusiastic throughout), making me wish classics “Silence Kit” and “Elevate Me Later” were saved for later in the set when the band was properly warmed up.
With the aforementioned closing of “Rattled by the Rush”, the band seemed to carry a new swagger, a perfect moment for Stairs to sing his best. “In the Mouth of a Desert” also benefited from the live treatment, simply due to volume and emotion. In fact, the Slanted and Enchanted numbers, which were a focal point of the show for obvious reasons, are one of the true pure pleasures of seeing Pavement, because of the way they were recorded – you can never really hear the songs this loud and full any other way. I love lo-fi, but I also like head-melting volume.
But if I had to lay out the most memorable moments of the the night, they would be as follows: the final verse of “Summer Babe”, where a flip switched in Malkmus and he decided to sing his guts out to chill-inducing results; “Starlings of the Slipstream”, a song I had never paid much mind to, but is probably the song that Stephen Malkmus was born to sing over any other; and “Here”, played with such reverence and beauty that the room felt like a giant, supportive hug. Pavement seized the opportunity to play like the rock stars they never were, but did it with respect to both themselves and their fans, never trying to be anything they weren’t, always staying weird. I mean, they still let Nastonovitch do his thing.
It also ought to be noted that Pavement packs some pretty weird fans to go along with the theme. Loved the guy who yelled “Fuck Coachella” at a quiet moment after “Summer Babe” and the lone monster cheering for the “Range Life” line about “snorting it up or shooting it down.” And not one lighter appeared during “Here”, which is shocking if you really think about it. And sure, Spiral Stairs can’t sing “Date With Ikea” for shit anymore, and sure, it is an attempt to quarantine the past when we all know Malkmus says you can’t, but this night and this tour will settle any argument about the musicians who faded away before their relevance peaked. They can play a 30-song set, captivating an audience and still leaving them wanting more. Like “Pueblo”. Really, no “Pueblo”? I hope they are saving that one for the Bowl …
Elevate Me Later
Give It a Day
No Life Singed Her
Father to a Sister of Thought
Rattled by the Rush
In the Mouth of a Desert
Spit on a Stranger
Fight This Generation
Cut Your Hair
Date With Ikea
Starlings of the Slipstream
Zurich Is Stained
Conduit for Sale!
Feature box image via Thevine.com.au…