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Combobulated & Whelmed: The Anti-Nostalgia of Pavement Live at Greek 6/25/2010

29 June 2010

It’s easy to forget I was a pretty big Pavement fan before I ever thought I’d be a Silver Jew. While I find it hard to jump in with all those who say “Pavement saved Rock and Roll” or pop, or indie, or honesty or romance, or innocence, or ferocity, and reinvented pop music far and above any other band in the last 20 years (I feel many of these folks don’t know their history, and they unleash my inner pop snob and curmodgeon), I see their point. I probably believed it from 1992, when DCB first hyped them to me, to 1996, during Bill Clinton’s first term, before the telecom act and Nafta put even bigger obstacles in the way of any non-corporate sponsored band. They were one of the few contemporaries worth following, on a low-budget, for more than 2 albums.

In NYC, Pavement was not only the soundtrack of the gonzo-critical discourse wordy nightmare deep-gossip theory people set, but it often was the subject of conversation. For many, this was the closest the music scene (or biz) came to what’s largely been taken over by sports-talk and political talk radio since the late 1980s—-the thing that brings over-analytical verbaholic introverts together, kind of like the “local personality DJ” of lure (still available on Mexican radio, even if you don’t know spanish), but ultimately more like the World Wide Web, whose rise parallels Pavement’s in at least 2 ways. The live show was secondary. Many of Pavement’s fans, almost by definition, had to make fun of their passion for this band even before they could express their passion. The definition of “post-ironic?”

Notoriously bad live (but still way better than most performances of amazing for-the-page poetry)….
Notoriously bad live (like that was intentionally part of a schtick—redefining WILD for a post-industrial American era)
Notoriously bad live (but it was human, and they were never THAT bad)
Hilariously bad live (but in little clubs, that’s often really fun with some earnest passion shut ups thrown in)…
Notoriously bad live (like an insistent mantra, and not even willful defiance anymore)
Notoriously bad live (but it’s kind of what we needed)

and if “street cred” to you means something like
“one foot in the door, the other foot in the gutter
the sweet smell that you adore, I think I’d rather smother…”
well Pavement had that style, miles and miles….
The idea of Pavement rocking-out-for-Gore is as absurd now as then.

In the 1990s, the social Pavement audience crowd always seemed to have less of what I loved about “punk” than Pavement themselves, even at their most beautifully sentimental melodic, did. I guess there’s nothing new in that (cf. Dylan, Life Of Brian, Jesus—-but it kinda bugged me like Deadheads getting in the way of The Dead). It’s one thing to share how great a song is, but many of these Pavement heads wanted to pitch their oh-so-deep interpretations of Steve’s lyrics. My favorite thing about Pavement’s lyrics was usually that they were unobtrusive, felt like more a vehicle for the song’s melody and Steve’s vocal/emotive range to me—-and I mean that as highest praise. I loved the soul (the blues even) that I felt in Pavement, but many of these folks spoke of Pavement with the some kind of pretentiousness I often encountered in grad school during “the reign of theory.”

Thus, they always felt a little more upper-middle class (or Canadian), even then ($50 Tickets last night), or at least for those whom the Clinton Dot. Com Boom was not just a ruse. Maybe it was just that the audience themselves had a disproportionate amount of tall guys (a lot of Steve’s fans “just so happen” to look like Steve…). No matter, we had the “stereo—oh—oh…” and the stereo’s wider than the Great American Music Hall (if not the Greek Theatre, where the sky, nay the air, is the limit—which certainly didn’t hurt last night).

But last night made me rethink this—-as it was the first time I saw Pavement since I moved to California (though I saw Portland’s The Jix here several times). What I saw as “class privilege” or “height” was really “A California sensibility.” Stockton ain’t so far from Silicon Valley, if you assume the necessity of a car. It was clear that many still feel a “local pride” in Pavement; not just the ghost of the previous night’s Stockton show, which to all accounts was at least as magical.

So, Pavement is was is no fluke; it was an anti-nostalgia show.
Since they weren’t known as a great live band the first time around (at least once their draw exceeded the 500 person club), the band plays more like it’s liberated from expectations other legendary reunion tour bands are often saddled with. But it goes deeper than that.

The fact that Pavement, whether or not it’s even in the minor league ballpark to call them “the spokesband of the Underused generation” put on a way better show than I ever saw them perform in the 1990s left me feeling less nostalgic than more back on the precipice of its unfulfilled promise!

Try again—-
If Pavement’s brilliance in the 90s was that they deconstructed the baby-boomer maps more seductively and relentlessly than any of their post-baby boomer noise pop contemporaries, the brilliance of this Greek Theatre reunion show (if not the accompanying “greatest hit” package) is that it’s letting the paint dry just enough to reveal a new map in the making (okay, cheesy failed metaphor).

Notably, they didn’t do any covers (unless I was too wasted to remember). Pavement always kind of did covers better than originals (and in Steve’s other projects, he’s consistently shown himself to be one of the best interpreters of his generation) so that would be a source of disappointment were it not for the fact that from a decade’s distance they could do their OWN songs with the same fresh, spontaneous, alive, re-interpretive fury they used to save for the covers.

But there was a feeling of “makes hungry where they most satisfy” that was palpably evident from the nosebleed seats. Those in the “pit” closest to the stage (which, with a band like Pavement, is not necessarily a sign of deeper devotion) got more animated during songs from Brighten The Corners (though I swear I saw a young woman rip her top off during “Trigger Cut”), and Pavement seemed more comfortable playing to the different audiences they attract than ever before. They were actually kinda…get this…consummate showmen (if you remove that phrase from its cabaret trappings), they lost none of their edge, were even edgier in my opinion.

The joy on Mark Ibold’s face when we spoke afterwards made me so fucking happy, regardless of what the future will bring. They let the old songs breathe! So, while they changed some lyrics, like “darling I don’t care if you cut your hair,” they didn’t try to update “Out on tour with the smashing pumpkins,” and the anthemic “nothing more than you,” like Sly’s “Everybody Is A Star,” or an Merle Haggard singalong sincerity, really resonating with an audience, like “okay, you get it, so you got us” just didn’t feel as played as the audience at a Dylan show yelling in unison with Bob as he sings “You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you.” Dreaming, dreaming, dreaming…Some pure beautiful SCREAMS, and weird how Steve might have more of that celebrated “boyish” charm now—-the zeitgeist, the Bush wrecking crew decade, disappears. “I’m trying I’m trying…”

Or “Unfair,” the angry song about southern California stealing our water, resonating in full Giants V. Dodgers collectivity. Who would’ve thought it? The bond between audience and band greater than I ever saw with Pavement (Fucking East Coaster…)

And it hit me how similar to Tom Petty (in a good way) Spiral Stairs’ songs are; that “everyman” presence Scott Kannenberg always brought to the Pavement mix; seeing Steve shutting up and playing his guitar while Scott sings, it’s like a totally different band (and how more Pavement copiers end up sounding more like Scott’s songs)….and my mind wondered to thinking if ever David Berman could join them on stage… The dialogic call response vocal interplay between Bob, Steve, and Scott was also much more artful than ever. Not “One Handed Pavement,” but, if we’re gonna be showmen, let’s fucking do it. From the perspective of June 25, 2010, the album-as-art recording-centric regimen of the 90s got in the way…Yeah, Pavement’s still relevant; in a weird way, more than ever.

Since it’s not a nostalgia act, it’s not that their songs are prophetic or even ageless, it’s that they can be played with the force 2010 (or at least California 2010) demands (if I’m gonna get all Hugh-Selwyn Zeitgeist agen)… The 40 something generation? I didn’t take a demographic survey, but what does “middle-aged” mean anymore? The first generation (since the advent of recorded music at least) who was not challenged by those younger than us on the grounds than we’re not as edgy as them?

Cartainly not “only in it for the money,” too good for that….& they even did “Box Elder.”

 

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