I was first introduced to Pavement via AOL instant messenger. A friend with far better musical taste than little ol’ me continually used the opening lyric to their song “Stereo” as his away message in college: “Pigs, they tend to wiggle when they walk.” I didn’t know what that meant back then and I still don’t really understand its message but I at least had the good sense to ask him what it was from and he shared the album with me. Thus began an ardent fandom for a band that was making records when I was in middle school and had broken up before I even knew who they were, a fandom that culminated last Friday night in a spectacular reunion performance at Central Park’s Summer Stage. Well, I guess I shouldn’t say “culminated” because it will certainly continue, but this was definitely a milestone. I still almost don’t believe it really happened.
If there’s one way I could possibly characterize the show as a whole, it would be to just say “Pavement was Pavement.” I don’t mean for that to sound like a sigh of disillusionment or anything like that. All I’m saying is that they acted pretty much how I had envisioned they would, played all of their “hits”, and generally lived up to any kind of hopeful expectations I might have had, and that’s a really good thing. Too often, bands do these kinds of “reunion tours” as glorified ways of cashing in on a resurgence of popularity, or to remind people why they were liked in the first place, or else just for the hell of it because they have nothing better to do. Not so for Pavement; it’s not their style. I don’t buy the boredom excuse given the assortment of projects the members are involved in now, and I don’t think there are any ex-Pavement fans out there who let the music slowly fizzle out of their brains and need reminding (once a Pavement fan, always a Pavement fan). Maybe, just maybe, the time was ripe for reassembling the band and taking advantage of a younger generation of fans that didn’t get their chance the first time around (and they did release a “greatest hits” compilation this year, too). That wouldn’t be so bad (musicians have to pay the bills, ya know?) but I just don’t think that was their motivation, either. There’s really no good way to gauge hidden popularity in the digital age when album sales don’t mean shit if everyone’s out there trading mp3 files that they ripped from their older brother’s CD collection back in the day, so I can’t imagine that Malkmus & crew could have foreseen the incredible outpouring of support this reunion thing received when it was announced. The lightning speed at which the tickets for the original “reunion show” was sold seemed to surprise them, and even though this did lead to a handful of other Central Park shows and a nine-month-long tour building up to them, lead man Stephen Malkmus made a remark recently that basically said the extensive tour was just a bunch of rehearsals for the Central Park shows. Plus, there’s been subtle talk of this kind of thing for years. So yes, I could have seen them play in Cleveland or Philly or Chicago earlier, but this was the special one. Plus, my girlfriend bought these tickets for my birthday LAST October before they had announced any of the other tour dates. So there.
As far as the music goes, everything was great. Kudos to the tech crew at the Summer Stage for superb sound quality in that medium-sized but uber-crowded outdoor venue. There was nary an unintentional guitar squeak or muffled vocal and I could hear the individual parts if I focused my ear, even during Bob Nastanovich’s signature screams. The only “problem” showed up halfway through the set when Mark Ibold leaned into Stephen Malkmus’ mic to give a shout-out to openers The Beets (who also hail from his hometown of Queens) prompting covered ears from Stephen and a remark to the crew to turn down his monitor. Nastanovich pointed out how special it was: “Oooooohhh, a late monitor adjustment!” That reminds to point out one of the more compelling elements of their live show: Nastanovich is a fucking wild card, if I’ve ever seen one! He was by far the most animated one onstage, hopping up and down and banging his tambourine, pounding that second set of skins during “Summer Babe”, and roaming the whole stage with his wireless mic while screaming like a drunken wildman during “Conduit for Sale!” Granted, he was probably drunk anyway, given the number of beers I could see him consuming onstage and the few he probably had beforehand, but if that means the audience gets treated to his random ramblings and little jokes between songs (like when he grabbed a dude from the VIP section to scream the “I’m tryin’, I’m tryin’!” part of “Conduit…” and afterwards pointed out it was that guy Steve Goss who played with them on Late Nite with Jimmy Fallon after winning that contest, saying that they’re trying to incorporate him into all their shows now in a segment they’re calling “The Goss Toss”) and an impromptu and totally endearing dance session with his wife (sorry ladies, and guys, as Malkmus said) during “We Dance”, I say: more drunken power to him. The rest of the gang played with their own personalities and everything really meshed. They had a couple of false starts but that’s to be expected, especially from these guys. Overall, Malkmus exuded his usual slacker coolness (like making funny little circular hand gestures while singing the beginning of “Stereo” as if he could see those pigs wiggling right in front of him, and nonchalantly tossing his hands at the guitar strings to strum the ending chords of one song) and showed off some vividly fluid guitar work. Scott Kannberg (a.k.a. Spiral Stairs, a pretty cool stage name, I say) had a slightly more professional demeanor, keeping things generally tight and moving forward but letting loose on some of the solos, and even using some different vocalizations on his songs, so much so that it took me a few extra seconds to recognize “Date with Ikea”. Mark Ibold was center stage with his bass, bobbing his head and letting that hair of his bounce around like it was playing the bass, itself. Steve West was solid with the percussion; I was glad he had a raised kit and seat so I could watch him, even over the heads of so many others in front of me. I’d never really taken full stock of the percussive elements of Pavement‘s music, typically focusing on the guitar sound and the lyrics, but watching him perform has made me reconsider their sound, as a whole.
Right, back to the music. It was a fantastic assortment from all across their catalogue, but mostly tending towards their more popular “hits” and upbeat, rocking numbers. There was plenty of singing along in the crowd at this show, which I usually find irksome; I came to hear the band sing, not a fist-pumping drunk dude who wants to show off his lyrical knowledge. Somehow, though, it felt right at this one and there were good vibes throughout the crowd. Folks all around us were sharing some joints (and I don’t mean bumping elbows), and my girlfriend and I even shared some of our makeshift sandwich-picnic dinner with a hungry-looking fellow next to us before the show started. People chimed in for some choruses, particularly during “Gold Soundz”, “Spit on a Stranger”, “Cut Your Hair”, and the “Oh my god” section of “Shady Lane”. The band held off on playing perennial fan favorite “Range Life” until the end of the second (yes, second) encore, which is how we knew they weren’t quite done playing until then, and there was a lot of fan singing during that one, as expected. Somehow, I don’t feel like we really earned the first encore; applause was pretty lackluster considering the awesomeness of the performance and the size of the crowd, and I even managed to throw in a shout of “Come back and play some songs you haven’t played yet!” over the smattering of handclaps. But that second encore, oh man was that one deservèd. I thought there was enough leftover hooting and hollering from that one to merit a third, but bringing out their former producer Bryce Goggin to play keyboard on “Range Life” was just a perfect way to cap off the performance, and really it was their way of closing the run of NYC shows and saying farewell. They were incredibly grateful to the fans who have been at the shows, and it worked out really well for all involved. I don’t believe I’ll ever have the chance to see them again, but I never thought I’d even get this opportunity, so I’m totally happy. It still feels a little surreal and maybe in a week or two I’ll be walking around town and have an epiphany: “Holy shit! I saw Pavement!” In the meantime, I’ll just be basking in the fantastic memories of a great concert by a band that I’ll never stop loving. Or did I actually dream the whole thing?
Elevate Me Later? Nay, I’ll be eternally elevated after this one. This show gets two states and 40 million daggers.