While it was largely viewed as something of a 90′s revival at Sunday’s Pavement show – the first of the long-awaited, weeklong NYC residency by the indie-rock gods – a quick survey of the scene revealed how 21st century the event really was. If it were really the 90′s, the show would not have been in Williamsburg at all, nestled by a riverside park and rows of sprawling condominiums. Hell, there wouldn’t have even been a bike lane on the street, if the street was useable at all. But while a lot has changed in the decreasingly industrial Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg in the last decade, the music industry has changed much more. Amid all the remakes and revivals of movies, TV shows, and TV shows made into movies, it’s hard to recall a more backwards-looking era in popular culture. So it’s not surprising that the most popular trend in music is the nostalgia industry. Since the Pixies reunited for a tour in 2004, a parade of other bands have reunited for huge and lucrative reunion tours. Long-gone acts, big and small – from My Bloody Valentine, the original Dinosaur Jr. lineup, and Faith No More, to the Police, Genesis, and Stone Temple Pilots – have gotten back together in recent years. Additionally, many still-active bands have held concerts centered around playing classic, 90′s albums.
No matter the reason for the original splits- creative difference, drugs, death(s) – the reason for all the reunions, whatever other reasons are given, is obvious: cold, hard cash. And Pavement are no exceptions. And who can really blame them? If you can sell out five shows in New York City one year in advance, as they did, you book those shows. So what if the band members may or may not like each other? There’s a demand, so why not fill it? Because this isn’t the 90′s. As music sales have gone over a cliff over the past decade, “selling out” is less a pejorative and more of a solid strategy for band longevity. Add in the fact that we’re living in possibly the most nostalgia-filled era in the history of music, and it’s no wonder reunion tours are all the rage.
That’s not to say Pavement phoned it in and collected a big check. On the contrary, the show was so good that it hardly seemed like they took any time off. ”Slacker rock” was always a go-to description of Pavement, but they were a pretty tight live band by the end of their original run, if deceptively so. Stephen Malkmus’s lackadaisical manner on stage hides the fact that he’s a supremely talented guitarist. He’d have to be, to sound so great while appearing to play so lazily. Musically, Pavement may be playing better than ever. Inter-personally, however… it did seem like the late 90′s, because there didn’t appear to be a whole lot of love on the stage. If you ever need to see an illustration of the word “disinterested,” just watch Malkmus any time the band is playing one of Spiral Stairs’s songs. During “Date w/IKEA,” the second songin the set, Malkmus completely checked out, and did calisthenics on the side of the stage, adding “I love working out to that song,” at the end.
Still, even if Pavement seem less like a band and more like five guys going about their business, they seemed to all be enjoying themselves, if only on an individual basis. They didn’t interact all that much with each other, but were clearly still thrilled to be back, playing to such a huge gathering. Bob Nostanovich worked the crowd, did his usual maniacal jumping around and screaming, bouncing around the stage and behind his second-drummer kit. Bassist Mark Ibold seemed to be in a state of bliss most of the show, and Steve West didn’t appear to curse at Malkmus once, which was a nice change from the last few times I saw Pavement in 1999.
(Update– After seeing a few of the Central Park shows later in the week, the band did seem to be having a better time, with a lot more camaraderie and enthusiasm. By all accounts, the Williamsburg show seems to have been an off-night.)
Regardless of any other circumstances, it’d be hard to argue that this wasn’t a great show. The band sounded great, and they did the reunion the right way. Because unlike some other recently reunited bands, Pavement don’t seem to have any plans to record any new songs. So the setlist was just a 27-song greatest-hits list. From the singles like “Cut Your Hair,” “Gold Soundz,” “Summer Babe” and “Shady Lane,” to deeper album cuts like “In the Mouth a Desert” and “Unfair,” to EP tracks “Heckler Spray” and “Frontwards,” it was truly was a career-spanning setlist, and seemed to keep up with the spirit of a reunion- reminiscing about the glory days, looking back fondly with the knowledge that those days are long gone, and that it’s probably for the best. The show would have been much less enjoyable if they had a new album to peddle. Hell, it would’ve been less enjoyable if they’d played more than one song from Terror Twilight. People wanted to hear the old favorites, and Pavement delivered in spades.
And I’d hate to see Malkmus’ behavior if he had to play a NEW Spiral Stairs song.