Live Review

Pavement @ Fortitude Valley Music Hall

- American indie rock icons Pavement last toured Down Under over twelve years ago years and I forgive them completely for the long wait between drinks. Consisting of Stephen Malkmus (also of Steve Malkmus & The Jicks), Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, Mark Ibold, Bob Nastanovich and Steve West, this time joined touring member and multi-instrumentalist Rebecca Cole, Pavement are hallowed in the halls of alternative rock the world over. Meanjin’s hipster glitterati was out in full force at the Fortitude Valley Music Hall on a Tuesday evening to see the band, and I cannot stress enough that the diehard fans and posers of any alternative scene, anywhere, worship the very ground Pavement tread upon. The tension of an historic event ran bristling through the crowd by the time I had arrived – just in time to see the pile-in before Pavement took to the stage.

Truth be told, Pavement’s two-hour set wasn’t all that the crowd were hoping for. The anticipation of all of the greatest hits often spilled over into a restlessness as the band meandered through their back catalogue and occasionally struck gold. Harness Your Hopes was the first crowd favourite to bite; but if anything, it was the crowd’s reaction that was lacklustre. My very perceptive plus one made an interesting observation about Malkmus’ performance at this point: on the lyrics “Kiwis they are home baking”, they pointed out that Malkmus had paused somewhat to allow an audience callback for the line, which was not forthcoming from the shuffling Meanjinite mass. This phenomenon could be explained by Pavement’s recent world tour leg in Auckland, the ‘spiritual home’ of the band (according to the Auckland gig’s promotors), where the band relish the Kiwis’ chance to own their proclivity for baking (or getting baked). To an Australian audience, the subtlety was lost faster than a fart in a fan factory. Two States and Kennel District brought the crowd back around, Steve White throwing out the cryptic comment ‘Queensland hospitals are only for Queenslanders!’, hinting at some difficulties the band may have had with our wonderful public health system on their way in.

It must be noted that Bob Nastanovich remains a high energy guy, dressed in a long-sleeve top and a loose pair of over-the-knee white shorts and resembling a very particular kind of late '90’s rapper; Malkmus himself described White as the band’s sonic warrior. White did not disappoint, especially on his vocal tracks. White and guitarist Spiral Stairs had a humorous exchange early in the set where it was revealed that Spiral had some family out in the SEQ area, ‘… he lives some place that sounds like kombucha,’ quipped Malkmus from the side. The band launched into Grounded and Gold Soundz, generating what felt like (finally) one of the biggest crowd reactions so far. This was followed by Range Life and a dedication to Screamfeeder before they struck up Starlings of the Slipstream. The band had just about exhausted their banter, but let’s remember that Stephen Malkmus is always -- a very loose dude. His stage theatrics inspire words like ‘mummery’ and ‘backfoot duck walk’, and it must be noted that this guy doesn’t sound any older than when he started the band back in 1989. By quarter past ten, he had changed guitars six times. White dedicated Painted Soldiers to Sonic Sherpa’s sign, ‘that fucking sign’, rounding out the inevitable name-dropping for the evening. The band saved some of their best material for last, returning from the encore ritual at 10:39 to drop Blue Hawaiian, Major Leagues, Cut Your Hair (!) and finally Stop Breathin’. One point of contention about this particular gig was vigorously argued by fans and posers alike standing outside the Music Hall after 11pm that mild Tuesday night, and that was whether the band was deliberately off-kilter and out-of-key to preserve their DIY mystique – or if they were actually giving their adoring Meanjin fans the real McCoy. On the balance of things, I think I’d like to side with the former.

- Matt Hall.


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