Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks @ The Neptune Theatre, Seattle, WA 10.11.11
"We ate at that Cuban place (Paseo) in Fremont today. It's really good, but still tastes the same as it did in 2001. Just like this music." --Stephen Malkmus
It's hard to put a finger on exactly what was missing from former Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus' show last night. The newly remodeled Neptune was a perfect stage for the show, glowing with a subdued visual elegance and sounding completely clear and dialed-in. So maybe it was just a typical Tuesday night in any town (Tuesdays are particularly hard days to rock through), but both sides of the stage seemed to have a deep disengagement with the experience that made Malkmus' awkward charm a little less obvious.
Malkmus is at a strange point in his career; his solo career chugged along as long as Pavement was around, and it still seems like he's searching for a clear path of what he's doing. At times, it feels like the solo career is something he just fell into and figured out it worked, and he's currently shrugging his shoulders at us going "I guess this is something to do?"
Malkmus is still a master of writing the same caliber of obscure scat poetry over sloppily perfect arrangements (read: Pavement-style pop songs), but he's spent his last four albums stretching his legs into more jammy/psych/prog territory. For Malkmus' brilliantly scattershot guitar style, it makes sense to write material that gives him (and his incredibly capable band, the Jicks) a shot at showcasing their respective chops, but there are times where you truly feel like Malkmus is either phoning it in or testing his audience's patience and loyalty. The majority of Tuesday's set was devoted to the newest Jicks LP (the Beck-produced Mirror Traffic), and was equal parts brilliant pop gems and frustratingly unfocused jams.
The Jicks were incredibly sharp and inspired throughout the Mirror Traffic songs: Ex-Joggers drummer Jake Morris is a blast to watch and fills former drummer Janet Weiss' shoes quite well; guitarist Mike Clark provided the rock poses of the night; and bassist Joanna Bolme spent the majority of the night trying to hype up a sleepy audience or corral Malkmus' diatribes. However, aside from the gorgeous plodding of "Church on White" and a barely-held-together, a cappella-heavy jam-length version of "Us" to close the night, all attempts at recognizing any of his back catalog were shunned or abandoned about 15 seconds in. In some ways, it seemed like the closest thing to a mid-life crisis from Malkmus; he's still the witty, charming, bratty guy who fronted Pavement, testing his audience and likely seeing who is still a hanger-on from the Pavement days and who is intentionally following Malkmus to a new destination.
SM & THE JICKS SETLIST:
- All Over Gently
- Brain Gallop
- Long Hard Book
- Pennywhistle Thunder
- Forever 28
- Independence Street
- Share The Red
- Church On White
- Tune Grief
- Gorgeous Georgie
- Stick Figures In Love
- No More Shoes (abandoned 10 seconds in)
- Discretion Grove (abandoned 10 seconds in)