“How many of you saw saw us in Osaka in the ’90s?” Pavement’s Bob Nastanovich asked between songs during the group’s April 10th show at Zepp Osaka. He was greeted with a decent-sized wave of cheers. I, along with the majority of the crowd, did not “woo.” Though I’m hesitant to make blanket statements about a Japanese crowd being asked a question in English, I’m willing to wager most of the people present at Pavement’s first show in the city since the Clinton presidency have a similar background as me: when Slanted And Enchanted first came out, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live was the ultimate music experience for toddler-me. When they broke up, my only exposure to them by then came via Beavis and Butt Head mocking the “Cut Your Hair” video. Yet there I was, packed in a venue to see a show I bought tickets for three months before because I was just that amped. Hell, I sprinted from the Cosmo Square train station to Zepp because I feared I would miss the first song.
So, why all the excitement? Even taking into account the folks who actually grew up with Pavement, this particular reunion tour has become the “must see” show of the summer, inflating from indie-website buzz to “appears as a nice pullout box in Rolling Stone” status. Hype, sure, but this reunion isn’t anything like My Bloody Valentine’s recent comeback, which was akin to seeing a thunderbird screech really really loudly. Pavement sound like Pavement, modern shorthand for college/independent/indie rock. Countless contemporary bands have been inspired or mimicked Pavement (have you listened to Cymbals Eat Guitars?) en route to digital “Best New Music” stickers. You can still catch the individual parts of Pavement sounding mostly Pavement-ish if you want – lead singer Stephen Malkmus live playing material from his excellent output with The Jicks, Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg doing the same by himself or with Preston School Of Industry. Mark Ibold’s a full-time member of Sonic Youth now, dude just needs to join Built To Spill to complete the ’90s indie-rock trifecta.
The answer to the drawn-out question “why see Pavement now?” – because Pavement wrote some really fucking good songs and they still know how to play them to an audience. This became head-slapping clear on set opener “In The Mouth Of A Desert” where the band nailed all the songs far-flung pieces – the screechy guitars, the speak-singing of Stephen Malkmus, the sweet “woo woo woo woo” bit at the end. The Osaka crowd – easily the best I’ve seen at a concert thus far in Japan – responded by jumping all around and pumping fists into the air. Any doubts about this show vanished at that moment…Pavement live circa 2010 would be predictably great.
A prevalent sentiment coming out of early reviews pins Pavement’s live sound on this go-around as “tighter than during its proper lifespan.” I can’t comment seeing as I was five when Slanted And Enchanted dropped, but will say the band delivered more-or-less faithful versions during their set, a set leaning towards the indie classics Slanted and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. Sorry Pacific Trim fans. All the big hits got their time in the limelight – the staticey blast of “Perfume V,” the Smashing Pumpkins diss “Range Life,” the spliced together “Trigger Cut,” even later day singles “Spit On A Stranger” and “Shady Lane.” The obvious songs got the obvious audience freak-outs they rightfully deserved – “Stereo” and it’s Geddy Lee musings seemed built for stadium rock-outs, “Here” made everyone get quiet and presumably introspective, “Cut Your Hair” “Summer Babe” and “Gold Soundz” standing tallest of all. Save for the slight surprise of “Two States” sending the crowd into an absolute tizzy – imagine what it should do at Coachella – Pavement’s most well-known songs got the treatment they deserved and sounded great in 2010.
Elsewhere, the band showed off the sonic flexibility that helped them last so long in the ’90s indie-verse. Slow numbers like the country-tinged “Father To A Sister Of A Thought” and the fragmented “Starlings Of The Slipstream” (which, btw, didn’t see that coming) lingered in all their relaxed beauty, before Pavement launched into more aggressive territory with the likes of “Two States” and “Fight This Generation.” The night’s last song was the manic “Conduit For Sale!” which saw Nastanovich beeline across the stage while shouting “I’m trying!” leading into Malkmus’ still-got-it Uzi flow. Everything sounded great, no cracks visible.
At their last concert at The Brixton Academy, Malkmus famously attached a pair of handcuffs to his mic stand and declared that they represented the feeling of being in a band for so long. At Zepp, the members of Pavement couldn’t have looked happier to be performing. Guess ten years off goes a long way. Drummer Steve West stood on his drum kit at random intervals and made corny jokes between songs, Ibold and Kannberg sporting “can’t believe we are doing this” smiles for most of the two hour show. Stephen Malkmus, wearing a red polo shirt confirming the “preppy” label attached to his name (note how I haven’t used the word “slacker” once yet), acted in a completely goofy-but-enthralled way while he delivered his trademark screechy vocals – he mimed various lyrics (air scissors for “Cut Your Hair”), threw up horns and barked like a dog between songs, and tried balancing his guitar on one finger like a Harlem Globetrotter during “Conduit For Sale!” He also managed to fit in a sorta electric slide, some bowing and an NBA joke. The most enthusiastic of the night award definitely went to Nastanovich, who acted like Pavement’s #1 fan lucky enough to be invited into the band. He jumped around, shouted and talked to the crowd to the best of his ability – he traded one of his egg shakers for an audience member’s frog-shaped shaker. Malkmus threw in 100 yen.
There really aren’t any major revelations to glean from Pavement’s reunion tour – it’s one of the most vital indie-rock groups playing their most beloved songs while having a good time doing it. If you are a Pavement fan, you’ll have a great time. If you check this Tumblr on a daily basis, you’ll be blown away. Pavement sound great, really appear to be enjoying this tour and the fans are jazzed up to see them one more time. And despite being a latecomer to their greatness, I’m glad I dashed to Zepp to catch every second of Pavement. Even if I looked like I came straight from a track meet for most of the show.