Words: Simon Opie
Live: Pavement at The Zenith, Paris (07/05/10)
The last time I saw Pavement was on June 17th 1999 at Irving Plaza in New York. The concert was remarkable for Stephen Malkmus’ lack of voice and the inescapable feeling that all was not well in the Pavement world. Sure enough, by November they had played their last gig – and one of the most underrated bands of all time had imploded, a breakup beautifully described in the Preston School of Industry song, 'Whalebones'.
So it was with some trepidation that I stood amongst the crowd at The Zenith, waiting for Pavement to appear on their 2010 reunion tour. I reminded myself that since 1999 both Stephen Malkmus (with and without the Jicks) and Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg (solo and with his band Preston School of Industry) had made some great music (both 'The Real Feel' and 'Real Emotional Trash' are amongst the best albums of the last decade) and played some tremendous live gigs. Nonetheless, it seemed a big ask to overcome the personal bitterness that had overwhelmed the band almost eleven years ago.
Finally, Pavement hit the stage and the first impression was that they might not have survived the ravages of time that well. Stephen Malkmus looked like Pete Docherty emerging from his umpteenth spell in prison and Spiral Stairs looked like well, me – carrying some extra weight and wearing a hat in true ageing pub rocker fashion. And the first few songs were somewhat low-key – they seemed nervous. But of course, Pavement have such a great catalogue and with Bob Nastanovich in terrific form, they began to assert and roll back the years.
By the time they reached 'Shady Lane' and 'Gold Soundz' there was no looking back – great song followed great song played absolutely in the here and now. I’d forgotten how great some of these songs were – 'Spit on a Stranger', 'Stop Breathin', 'Cut Your Hair', 'Elevate Me Later' were personal highlights but there were no weak ones. Stephen Malkmus found his showmanship and after two encores we walked out into the Parisian night feeling really uplifted.
It’s easy to think that such a reunion is motivated only by financial gain – and in some sense, why not, it is their job after all – but back in the day Pavement did not achieve anywhere near the success they deserved. They are my favourite band, and it is encouraging to think that second time around their talents will be rewarded. Four sell out shows in Central Park this coming September would seem to indicate that they’re a lot of other people’s favourite band too.
Pavement are touring worldwide over the next few months.
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