The preeminent 90’s slacker rock band Pavement have reunited for their first tour in over a decade, and they’ve been taking their wild show on the road for over a year now. They ended their journey with 4 sold out nights at Brooklyn Steel following last years’ other quartet of local shows at Kings Theater. We were fortunate to catch their third show of the run, even though many fans there were in for the full four nights; which made sense as they have been repeating very few songs on their set lists, and every night seems to have been full of surprises and unexpected happenings. Pavement have long held a reputation as the biggest cult band of the 1990’s, as they never had that huge breakthrough radio success that many of their contemporaries had, but over time they have gathered a huge following of devotees and have proven to be influential to many across the wide spectrum of the music scene. Their absurdist, stream-of-consciousness lyrics and raw and unpredictable musical style was itself most certainly inspired by bands like The Fall and The Replacements. They in turn have also influenced many others of that decade including Blur, Built To Spill, and Weezer to name a few, but they have also definitely influenced a ridiculous number of acts in today’s modern music scene including Parquet Courts, Courtney Barnett, Mac Demarco, Alex G, and Deerhunter among many, many others.
They started as a band in California in 1989, shortly after frontman Stephen Malkmus spent a number of years on the New York City scene while employed as a security guard at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The band attracted a considerable amount of indie buzz in the early 90’s, but by the middle of the decade they seemed to be in a continual state of nearly breaking up, even though they continued to tour, record, and even get some decent radio play, but by the year 2000 they were officially done. In 2010 they reunited for multiple benefit shows right here at NYC’s Central Park, and that did end up turning into an expansive world tour. In 2019 they were set to replay that success with a couple of 30th-anniversary shows at the Primavera Sound Festival followed by a tour, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival and any continuing plans was put on hold. However, they waited out the storm, and last year they did take on the afore mention festival in Barcelona, followed by a tour which saw them crisscrossing across the country, doing multiple dates in Europe, and after a few shows in Iceland, they have chosen to end their extended run right here in Brooklyn, with only a one-off appearance at The National’s Homecoming Festival in Ohio following so far.
The New Jersey psychedelic rock band Garcia Peoples opened the show. As their name implies, their shows are like seeing the Grateful Dead play, but only with a lot more jazz and prog rock thrown into the mixture than you’d expect. Their set did have a definite jam band appeal, with it sometimes being hard to determine where one song ends and another starts, but their complex rhythm parts, twisty guitar arrangements, and unexpected time changes they kept the structure of the music far weightier and thicker than the typical freeform hippie jam. They are more than you’d expect, but still easy enough to space out with.
Pavement went through lots of personnel changes in the early 90’s, but they are still headed up by founding guitarists and frontmen Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg, along with bassist Mark Ibold and the wild man percussionist and screamer Bob Nastanovich, both of whom have been in the band since 1991, as well as drummer Steve West who has been in the band since the mid 90’s. On this tour, they have been joined by keyboardist Rebecca Cole, who some may recognize for her time in the indie rock band Wild Flag, and defiantly helped give the music extra depth. I was very impressed with this tour’s stage set design that involved a wondrously wild rear projection system that mixed real-time filming of the band playing merged with trippy cuts, psychedelic graphics, and inventive laser effects that all created a very visually enchanting display.
They definitely kept their fans guessing what songs they’d play with new set lists every night, and this show they performed a lot of tracks from their 1994 album Crooked Rain like “Gold Soundz,” “Range Life,” “Stop Breathin,” and “Unfair,” including the tasty morsel “Elevate Me Later” which they hadn’t played since their 2010 reunion tour. As far as they’re big “hit” from that album “Cut Your Hair” that they, of course, played in the middle of their three song encore. They actually messed this classic up after just a few notes and had to retune and start again, showing how it’s never to act like it’s the very first show on their tour, but with an eternally messy band like Pavement raw happenings like this felt like exactly what you should expect. After they rocked that little ditty out, Malkmus mused about how every time he plays that song it reminded him of a Breeders song, and then joked that it was comparable to the worst Pixies song. Then for the biggest hot take of the night, he said that The Breeders were actually better than The Pixies! Wow, that is a bombastic statement, but one that I have loudly and proudly shouted from the rooftops since the early 90’s as well. There was also an unexpected last-minute addition of “Loretta’s Scars” from 92’s Slanted & Enchanted as the first song of the encore (that wasn’t on their printed setlist), which was a song that they did play the night before, but which before then they had also not played since their last reunion run a decade ago. They also played and array of other deep cuts, as well as more popular and beloved tracks like “Harness Your Hopes, “ “Shady Lane,“ “Spit on a Stranger,“ “Stereo,” and one of my personal favorites “Summer Babe.” There was also a rather touching moment when the band called out the recent passing of their original drummer Gary Young, who had shown up to multiple shows on their last reunion tour and even played with them multiple times, and Malkmus also mentioned that Young’s brother was in attendance at the show, which made for a deeply touching end to this wild reunion ride for this incredible live band.
Article: Dean Keim