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Pavement's Promise 

Why Malkmus and Co. still need their seminal band

Wednesday, Jun 23 2010

In 1994, Stephen Malkmus infamously made some funny comments about the Smashing Pumpkins and the Stone Temple Pilots during "Range Life," one of the many excellent songs on Pavement's second album, Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. A decade later, when all three bands had broken up, the song stood as a little time capsule of a peculiar era in music when fans and bands spent an inordinate amount of time talking about who had sold out and, more specifically, trying to figure exactly what a band had to do to be deemed a sellout. The Pumpkins, Pilots, and Pavement are now all back in action, but these days few people are wasting much energy bitching about who's selling out — if Pavement is doing it for the money, then more power to you, boys.

The return of the Pixies and the original version of Dinosaur Jr. have made almost any alt-rock reunion seem possible, which means subsequent hell-frozen-over arrangements are subject to shrugged shoulders. Not so with Pavement, however: The seminal indie-rock band's announcement last year that it had buried the hatchet and was hitting the road had most of its fans covered in goose bumps. What started out as just a few handfuls of shows has become a nearly year-long commitment, but the band swears that it has no interest in making new music or tarnishing the legacy by dragging things out. Even so, this seems like the right time to analyze why Pavement is good for each of the members, and why they're good for the band.

Player: Stephen "SM" Malkmus
Position: Singer, guitarist, primary songwriter
Why he needs Pavement: Malkmus got off to a good start with his post-Pavement reinvention by exposing a more straightforward side on his self-titled solo debut. Unfortunately, he seems to have lost a little more of the plot with each subsequent release, occasionally letting his unchecked indulgences sway into jam-band territory. And really, even if you're a big fan of Pig Lib or Real Emotional Trash, it's hard to argue that anything on those albums touches what he did with Slanted and Enchanted and Crooked Rain. Simply put, Malkmus needs Pavement because that's where his best songs reside, and this is the only proper setting for them to be played.

Why Pavement needs him: Well, this one is a no-brainer. Malkmus is the heart and soul of Pavement, and whatever thoughts and feelings anyone has about the band are based on what he's done. He's the slacker, the genius, the contrarian, and the damn fine pop songwriter who made Pavement an underground legend in its own time. Malkmus isn't just to the band what Robert Smith is to the Cure; he's to indie rock what Robert Smith is to goth.

Player: Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg
Position: Guitarist, occasional singer and songwriter
Why he needs Pavement: Not surprisingly, the divide between Pavement and Kannberg's subsequent endeavors is even greater than the one that separates Malkmus from the good old days. Kannberg didn't seem to have much control over Pavement, especially at the end, and he simply isn't the songwriter Malkmus is. But that doesn't change the fact that Pavement was started by the duo, and this was always just as much Kannberg's band as it was Malkmus'. "It was my passion," Kannberg says, "and not to do it was pretty hard. I always wanted Pavement to do more than we did, and we've got another chance to do some more stuff. Although we're not going to record anything, just playing shows is good enough."

Last year's classic-rock-indebted The Real Feel solidified Kannberg's position as a second-rate frontman, and by returning to his Spiral Stairs moniker he reminded listeners that there's something in his past that's better than his present. The former Bay Area resident is moving to Australia when the tour ends, but $100 says he'll catch the first flight back to the States if he detects even the slightest whiff of interest from Malkmus about putting their band back together for real.

Why Pavement needs him: Without Kannberg, there'd be no "Date W/ IKEA," "Painted Soldiers," or "Kennel District," three of Pavement's finest pop gems. Kannberg's presence also reminds Malkmus that this is a band that comes from humble roots, started by a couple of childhood friends from Stockton. On that note, Kannberg seems to counter Malkmus' aloof/smarty-pants demeanor by playing the everyman role, the one fans can look at and imagine that maybe the guys in Pavement are just like us. (Except, of course, they aren't.)

Player: Bob Nastanovich
Position: Multi-instrumentalist, screamer
Why he needs Pavement: A Guardian (U.K.) story recently stated that the main reason Pavement got back together was to help its utility player with his gambling debts. Nastanovich says that simply isn't true, though he does need the money. "The debts I've incurred were through owning and breeding horses," says Nastanovich, who lately has been a chart caller for horse-racing database Equibase. "So the news of the tour was very welcome to me, because even though I was making a decent living working my horse-racing jobs, I was only really able to peck away at my debts."

He seems fine with living in Iowa and devoting his life to thoroughbreds, but if he wants to play music, he really needs Pavement: "Nobody really has ever heard of Pavement in horse racing," he says. "But they've heard that I was in some band, so they'll be like, 'We've got this band, we do this thing every Thursday night, play covers — why don't you come up and jam with us?' I can't jam. I can play Pavement songs and Silver Jews songs. And I made up all my parts, and they're all pretty rudimentary. If you can keep time, I could teach you all my parts in an hour."

Why Pavement needs him: It's great when bands include a joker in the deck, and Nastanovich's wild-card presence is perhaps his most important role in Pavement. The band's original drummer, Gary Young, was a great player, but he was also a crazy drunk, so Nastanovich was recruited to help keep time. Young — who still lives outside Stockton — is planning to perform with the band at the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton (and perhaps the Greek), which means Nastanovich should definitely be on guard. Nastanovich is also looking out for fans by suggesting that the band should expand the current live repertoire to include songs like "Embassy Row," "Transport Is Arranged," and "Type Slowly."

Player: Mark Ibold
Position: Bassist
Why he needs Pavement: It could be argued that of all the members of Pavement, Ibold needs the band the least. He always looks like he's having a great time onstage with Malkmus and the crew, but he's been sharing the love with Sonic Youth for a few years now, and that gig seems a lot more secure than what Pavement is offering these days. He'll be pulling double duty in September at the Hollywood Bowl, when Sonic Youth hands over the headlining spot to its former pupils. And just in case his role in Sonic Youth goes the way of Jim O'Rourke's, Ibold has food porn to fall back on, and he could always ask Kim Gordon about getting involved with Free Kitten again.

Why Pavement needs him: Have you seen that smile?

Player: Steve West
Position: Drummer
Why he needs Pavement: While the projects Malkmus and Kannberg have fronted over the past decade have been extensions of their work with Pavement, Steve West pulled a Dave Grohl and became the frontman of Marble Valley. The international outfit is a strange bird, playing around with pop, postpunk, psychedelics, rap, and whatever else it can get its hands on in service of songs that can go from weird to weirder. They sound like fun to play, but they're not exceptional; West is still at his best when he's holding a couple of sticks.

Why Pavement needs him: The intricacies of what makes a particular drummer so important to a band can be lost on the average listener, so we've brought in a professional to explain why Pavement needs Steve West. Evan Sult, who has drummed for Harvey Danger and Bound Stems, is about as big a Pavement fan as they get. "I think that Malkmus might argue that Steve West was kind of an interchangeable drummer," says Sult, who now holds down the beat for St. Louis duo Sleepy Kitty. "In [Pavement documentary] Slow Century and elsewhere, he seems to be sort of condescending toward West as more of a classic-rock drummer. But I think that West was able to bring steadiness and clarity to the songs." Contrary to what Malkmus sings in that "Stereo" B-side, Westie can drum.

About The Author

Marc Hawthorne

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