June 24, 2010
Bob Hope Theatre, Stockton, CA
Better than: Any show where the local mayor doesn't come out to introduce the headlining band.
Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg started Pavement in Stockton, Calif., more than two decades ago, and last night they brought their now-seminal, temporarily reunited indie-rock band home -- complete with a short performance by the band's original drummer, Gary Young.
After breaking up in 1999, Pavement reunited earlier this year to play shows around the world -- reportedly to help out multi-instrumentalist Bob Nastanovich with his gambling debts -- but it's safe to say the band played last night's show purely for kicks. It was a banner night for the struggling burg of Stockton. The Bob Hope Theatre, a gorgeously restored old gem in the center of a no-man's-land downtown, throbbed with local color: Older folks who looked about the generation of Pavement's members' parents, aging punks who recounted stories of playing with Malkmus and Kannberg when they were in high school, and young hipsters who could only have read about the band's mid-'90s glory days.
Even Stockton Mayor Ann Johnston paid homage to the celebrated slackers: "This is a historic moment in Stockton," she said onstage, introducing the band. "Scott Kannberg might have last been here as an usher, but look what we did to this theatre to welcome him and Pavement." It didn't matter that there were swaths of empty seats.For a band so famously ambivalent about itself, its stardom, and its songs -- oh, and especially its reunion tour -- Pavement aimed to kick ass last night. Its set began with the rough-starting "Silence Kit" and ended, 90 minutes, 25 songs, and a single encore later, with Young on the drums for "Perfume-V." Things didn't always sound great -- "this place is better for talkin' than for rockin'," Malkmus at one point quipped -- but the band seemed to want to make sure that the music, as well as the occasion, was memorable. Malkmus twirled, twisted and trounced his guitars, at one point even playing with his teeth, in ways that make it hard to argue that he wasn't enjoying himself. Multi-instrumentalist Bob Nastanovich reveled in his turns at the mic, a couple of times grabbing it to yell with neck-veins-out intensity at the front rows. Guitarist Kannberg and bassist Mark Ibold looked pretty happy to have a grateful crowd cheering their every move.
And mostly, Pavement sounded pretty damn good. Their playing was rough in some spots (like Malkmus' guitar solo in "Stop Breathin'") and dead-on in others ("Starlings of the Slipstream" was breathtaking). But Pavement isn't a musicianship kinda band -- they're a notoriously sloppy one, in fact -- and just hearing them play together was a joy. There was a sense of surreality to it all last night, as if the mythology of Pavement had all suddenly been realized in the flesh and sent to hang out in downtown Stockton on a Thursday night.It sure didn't hurt that between every other song or so, Malkmus and Kannberg would joke or reminisce about places they used to hang out in town. "One of the great things about Stockton is the old trees," Malkmus said, kicking off "Shady Lane." Kannberg -- also known as "Spiral Stairs" -- told a story about seeing "the Bill Cosby ambulance movie with Raquel Welch" at a nearby drive-in. (The crowd had to remind him that the title of that 1976 film was Mother, Jugs and Speed.) The crowd soaked up the music and the banter cheerfully. Someone even blew a vuvuzela. Many more songs were called out than were played, which is to be expected, but it's fair to call the night's set list a crowd-pleaser (see below). Nothing, though pleased the crowd more than the very end, when after claiming with a straight face that "Conduit For Sale!" would be the last song, Malkmus reappeared about three seconds later and rushed the band into playing an encore with Young, Pavement's original stickman. (Young's ponytail and hunched-over figure had been seen lurking behind drummer Steve West in a previous song, but he had new cymbals brought out for the encore.) "We went over, of course, and we gotta hurry," Malkmus implored. Young ripped off his shirt, revealing a -- well, an old, hard-drinking rock 'n' roller's chest -- and Pavement tore into "Summer Babe," the first song off its debut LP, Slanted & Enchanted. Young's pitter-patter on the hi-hat gives "Summer Babe" its lurching feel, and watching him play it was pretty much fucking awesome. From there, Pavement blitzed into "Two States," to which Young contributes an important stop-start pattern, and the band had what seemed like the whole room shouting "forty! million! daggers!" Young had hit his stride, his technical fills were now right-on. So the jaunt of "Perfume-V" was all pleasure: "She's got the radio active, and it makes me feel OK -- I don't feel OK," goes the chorus. We were all feeling OK -- for about two minutes, until the song stopped, the house lights went up, and the members of one the greatest indie-rock bands ever said a stunned, grateful, and probably permanent goodbye to their proud hometown.
By the way: Pavement is playing tonight at the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, and tickets are still available.
Opening band: The Authorities, who kicked the show off last night, are a punk band formed in 1978 in Stockton. Malkmus thanked them profusely from onstage, saying they were one of the only local punk bands that was both politically relevant and funny when he was growing up.Random Detail: Had a smoke last night with a guest-lister last night named Vince, who said he was in the Stockton punk band Bag O Bones with Malkmus back in the day. Vince was also chatting with Gary Young, who was sort of wandering around outside for a bit before Pavement's set. Malkmus later dedicated the song "Grounded" to a Vince Voodoo, and I wonder if it was the same Vince I was talking to. (He was a spry black guy with flip-flops and a short mohawk, and he summarily tore the filter off the American Spirit I handed him before smoking it.) Anybody know? Setlist:
Ell Ess Two (Elevate Me Later)
Spit On A Stranger
Rattled By The Rush
Date With Ikea
Fight This Generation
In The Mouth Of A Desert
Cut Your Hair
Starlings of the Slipstream
Father To A Sister Of Thought
Conduit For Sale!