Although Pavement disbanded in 1999, frontman Stephen Malkmus has certainly kept busy: performing as Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, the competent songwriter has released four full-lengths, including 2008’s Real Emotional Trash. Still, none of those offerings has ever lived up to the (well-deserved) aura of Pavement. Pavement’s contributions to the 1990s indie/rock scene are officially numbered at five albums, but their influence has been far-reaching for nearly fifteen years. A decade after disbanding, rumors began to surface that Pavement might get together to play a few shows. Soon, a supporting greatest hits album was announced confirming that the California quintet would indeed return to the stage. Pavement scheduled four massive nights in New York City’s Central Park, yet quietly added a Brooklyn “warmup” show at the Williamsburg Waterfront.
Brooklyn natives Endless Boogie opened the evening, but I arrived only in time for Jenny and Johnny, the moniker under which Jenny Lewis and Johnathan Rice perform material from their lone output, I’m Having Fun Now. Lewis seemed to lead the band, but bassist and co-songwriter Rice contributed lead vocals to a few songs. The duo, backed by guitarist Todd Wisenbaker and drummer Jason Boesel, performed all of that album except for the airy/out-of-place “While Men Are Sleeping”. Some brief banter broke up the set’s eleven songs, but Jenny and Johnny generally wasted little time during their forty-five minutes on stage. The near ten-minute “Next Messiah”, from Lewis’s 2008 solo effort, Acid Tongue, wrapped up an incredible performance.
My Pet Snakes
Just Like Zeus
Straight Edge of the Blade
Just One of the Guys
After a spectacular opening performance from Jenny and Johnny, Pavement wasted no time demonstrating their own worth to a crowd needing no convincing. “Cut Your Hair” went first, the audience immediately drawn into Stephen Malkmus’s idiosyncratic world. Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg fired back with “Date w/ Ikea”, but Malkmus once again returned to the helm with 1995 single “Rattled by the Rush”. Pavement’s two main songwriters sounded sharp, seamlessly connecting the various styles of the band’s discography to create an enjoyable, flowing setlist loaded with both straightforward rock songs and disjointed indie-influenced cuts alike.
The venerable Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain contributed more than half of its songs, including rock-solid performances of “Silence Kit and “Unfair” early in the night. Pavement routinely engaged the crowd, with banter about Brooklyn hipster culture and even a Bob Nastanovich dance with a fan during during Zowee Wowee leadoff “We Dance”. The groovy “Infinite Spark”, from 1997’s Brighten the Corners, was clearly one of the evening’s highlights, and it appeared to wrap up Pavement’s set about an hour into the night. Instead, the band played that album’s lead single, “Stereo”, to the excitement of the entire crowd before taking a break backstage.
The five-piece returned with “Spit on a Stranger”. “Gold Soundz” was particularly energetic, Malkmus pouring his heart into the song’s clever lyrics. “Range Life” went last, and, surprisingly, was one of the night’s duller moments. Despite being one of Pavement’s best studio cuts, the song sounded thin in a live environment. When the five-minute, alternative-country jam ended, Pavement had played for nearly one hour and forty-five minutes, touching on songs across their entire discography.
Cut Your Hair
Date w/ Ikea
Rattled by the Rush
Elevate Me Later
Fight This Generation
Father to a Sister of Thought
Heckler / In the Mouth a Desert
Summer Babe (Winter Version)
Infinite Spark (fin)
Spit on a Stranger
Trigger Cut / Wounded-Kite at :17
Starlings of the Slipstream
If Pavement never records another full-length — and it’s unlikely that they will — then their legacy is at least preserved in a timeless collection of five full-lengths and at least twice as many EPs, recorded during a ten year period that saw indie/rock rise from an obscure basement genre to a widely appreciated, radio-backed phenomena. For New York fans that never saw Pavement in that era, the band’s reunion performance provided an excellent glimpse into the heart of one of the 90s’ best rock acts. In a bittersweet moment, the Williamsburg Waterfront concert brought a still-potent band back to life: bitter that the band is no longer turning out material; sweet to be treated one last time to the band’s stellar existing offerings.