Photo by Martin Hamedani
When the world first heard the offbeat guitar gravel of “You’re Killing Me”, the opening track on Pavement’s 1989 debut EP Slay Tracks (1933-1969), few could have surmised that frontman Stephen Malkmus would grow into a bona fide guitar hero. And while his last two records with the Jicks, 2008’s Real Emotional Trash and this year’s Mirror Traffic, were welcome testaments to his axe chops, the band’s live show sees Malkmus warping his licks even further, replacing studio effects and layered harmonies with extended solos that never overstay their welcome. It puts Malkmus’ love for classic rock on full display, something that people failed to notice until Pavement released Brighten the Corners in 1997.
Photo by Martin Hamedani
After the unpredictable sludge jazz of opener Holy Sons, The Jicks accidentally took the stage earlier than planned. The pre-show music continued to play, prompting Malkmus to briefly sing along to Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around And Fell In Love” in his best falsetto, a sign of the 70’s rock stylings to come. The band greeted the audience, then launched into Mirror Traffic deep cut “All Over Gently”. The song’s laid back plucking was a pleasant way to start the set, but it wasn’t until second tune “Brain Gallop” that the show kicked into high gear. Malkmus flexed his guitar prowess without having to drag the song into an overlong jam session, opting instead to beef up the mini solos in between his cadences. The audience was clearly impressed by his elaborate noodling, pouring out a monsoon of applause that even surprised the band.
Most of the evening was dedicated to Mirror Traffic, which didn’t appear to bother anyone. Besides being one of the strongest records in Malkmus’ solo career, it’s also the best suited for a full band, possessing enough riffs and rolling bass peaks (courtesy of Jicks founding member Joanna Bolme) to make things interesting, while also containing enough space for improvisation. The Detroit-dedicated “Tigers” received a dose of slide majesty from the Holy Sons’ guitarist and lead single “Senator” was wistfully expanded with midsection piano drizzle and crunchy power chords that sounded poised to transition into Real Emotional Trash‘s “Gardenia”, but unfortunately never did. Elsewhere, the band cherry-picked from the more synth-based sounds of their earlier catalogue, changing the songs to better suit the current lineup and aesthetic. The schizophrenic blurps of Face The Truth favorite “Baby C’Mon” were overtaken by dueling shreds between Malkmus and second guitarist/occasional keyboardist Mike Clark, while “Church On White” felt less melancholy thanks to reduced chimes and turned up soloing.
The Jicks’ encore further drove home their FM tendencies. Following the Mirror Traffic brace of “Forever 28” and “Share The Red”, new drummer Jake Morris lent his pipes to a half joking, half soulful rendition of Looking Glass’ “Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl)” before the set ended with a slightly ominous, warped version of “Bennie And The Jets”. The jukebox staple was slowed down with rabid stomps of guitar and keyboards interspersed between the verses and choruses, but somehow still remained joyful; the perfect closer for a band that has eased into middle age, but still holds enough inherent weirdness to put on a riveting live show.
Photography by Martin Hamedani.
All Over Gently
Long Hard Book
No One Is (As I Are Be)
Stick Figures In Love
Church On White
Scattergories (new song)
Real Emotional Trash
Share The Red
Brandy (You’re A Fine Girl) (Looking Glass cover)
Bennie And The Jets (Elton John cover)