Pavement at Roy Wilkins Auditorium, 9/12/2010

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Photos by Tony Nelson
Pavement
September 12, 2010
Roy Wilkins Auditorium


In the end, it was only the coordinated light show that didn't make much sense during Pavement's splendidly shambolic set at Roy Wilkins, as the band hit all the right (and wrong) notes during a nearly two-hour performance that felt more like a victory lap than a straight reunion show. It certainly was a bit odd not seeing the indie-rock paragons play at First Avenue (and, based on the turnout, they probably could've), but once the band hit their stride the show transcended the cavernous venue and the decade didn't really matter anymore, the songs did, as we were all taken back to the mid-90s when slack was king and MTV actually played videos (including "Cut Your Hair," which Pavement opened with). It was ultimately a show drenched in nostalgia, either from the older fans looking to relive their hazy college days or younger kids who felt like they missed out on the band the first time around.

Frontman Stephen Malkmus kicked off the show in a typically ambivalent, caustic manner, announcing "Thanks for coming to see us for the last time you'll ever see us. Unless you come to Minneapolis, I mean Milwaukee-the smaller Midwestern M." It was a definitive statement usually reserved for a parting shot heard during the encore, but it was perfect that Pavement used it instead as an introduction to their 28-song set, as they've never had much use for conventionality throughout their career anyway. And, based on the distant, scattered homes of the members, they've never had much use for practice either, needing to restart and work through the chords of "Elevate Me Later" even though they've played the song hundreds of times, causing an amused Malkmus to admonish the band, saying "It's a pretty easy song." All of Pavement's songs are easy, really, but they still resonate strongly and have a bite to them, with a witty, lyrical sting that is lacking in most rock bands these days.

The show really ignited with a fiery version of "Summer Babe" (which Malkmus declared "goes way back to when we played at the Uptown Bar or First Ave"), and the band built on that energy with a rousing rendition of "Silence Kit" that was among the best songs of the night. Even if Malkmus and Spiral Stairs (who only took lead vocals on a fervid version of "Kennel District") didn't seem to visibly be enjoying themselves, displaying a detached cool throughout the show, hypeman Bob Nastanovich clearly was having the time of his life, bounding excitably around the stage while adding his particular flavor and intensity to the band's slacker anthems. After an absolutely killer version of "Unfair," Nastanovich hilariously deadpanned: "Actually, we are neighbors. Any of you ever been to Des Moines? You should stop by, it's getting better." And after Bob went off on how the Lions got robbed by the officials in the football game earlier, Malkmus chastized him for "ruining our cache with the freak-folk movement."

The show hit another peak when the band tore through the kiss-off classic "Box Elder" and followed that quickly with "Frontwards," my favorite Pavement song and one of the highlights of the set. And from that point on, the band had it high-gear (if Pavement even has a high-gear), storming through stellar versions of "Rattled By The Rush," "In The Mouth A Desert," and "Stereo." They even honored opener No Age by reducing to a two-piece for "Our Singer," as Malkmus and drummer Steve West delivered a moody rendition of the closing track off Slanted & Enchanted (one of 8 songs the band played from their brilliant debut).

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Photos by Tony Nelson
The 'hits' kept on coming during the show's superb second half, proving that Pavement have a ridiculously impressive back catalog that has clearly influenced a lot of the current bands making the scene. And they have breadth as well, transitioning smoothly from the countrified ease of "Range Life" to the fervent agitation of "Two States." After bringing a girl from the crowd up on stage to dance with Nastanovich during "We Dance," Malkmus delivered one of the nights many comical gems: "Go back stage, you get a free Miller Lite and all the hummus you can eat. Pavement's gone, now hummus is everywhere. The 90s were cool, back when hummus was exotic." The main set closed with a spirited "Gold Soundz" and a stunning, wistful rendition of "Stop Breathin'," which is as poignant and moving as any song in Pavement's canon.

After Malkmus appeared mystified by a wireless microphone ("I don't even understand electricity. Admit it, you don't either."), the encore began with a tender version of "Shady Lane," whose tranquility was offset by the volatile "Conduit For Sale," which again gave Nastanovich the center stage. The night ended exquisitely, with Malkmus serenading the crowd on "Here." The fitting lyrics were a touching goodbye to the Twin City crowd that has always supported the band, "Come join us in a prayer. We'll be waiting, waiting where. Everything's ending here." Even with the show ending on that elegiac note, it was truly an enjoyable, often hilarious performance, with Stephen announcing early on that "This is like being on a TV show. You have some comedy, and then we play "Cut Your Hair." It's bright on stage and you have only one chance." Thankfully for the band, this current tour is their second chance to feel the love from the fans who didn't get an opportunity to see them the first time around. And, for the old fans, I think we will always have a special spot in our hearts reserved specifically for Pavement, and this was our last chance to thank them.

Critic's Bias: Pavement reminds me of my college years more than any other band, and I love them for that.
The Crowd: A smattering of slackers both young and old, and a healthy dose of people just curious to see what all the fuss is about.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Damn, No Age is fucking loud."
Random Notebook Dump: Right before the band launched into "Stereo," Nastanovich announced quickly "Ron Gardenhire-best manager in baseball." It was one of my favorite moments of the night.

Setlist:

Cut Your Hair
Spit On A Stranger
Elevate Me Later
Summer Babe
Silence Kit
Starlings Of The Slipstream
Kennel District
Unfair
Father To A Sister Of Thought
Box Elder
Frontwards
Rattled By The Rush
Heckler Spray
In The Mouth A Desert
Perfume-V
Stereo
Grounded
Trigger Cut
Our Singer
Fight This Generation
Range Life
Two States
We Dance
Gold Soundz
Stop Breathin'
Shady Lane (Encore)
Conduit For Sale (Encore)
Here (Encore)


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