Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
Electric Ballroom, London
9th December 2009
Stephen Malkmus has been (to coin a verb) ‘jicking’ for as long now as he was leading the charge of the Pavement brigade, releasing as many albums, yet never reaching the same heights. His solo career seemed to be in constant war of expectation over delivery. A deliberate, even contrary exercise in fulfilling a desire to unwind and explore new territory, fashioning together a band that would follow his lead, from noodly guitar solos to English folk and East Coast acid rock. It’s not Pavement. It’s not a bunch of twenty-year-olds fighting their generation. But the louche stage presence, that hazy cynical drawl, the greying hair framing the eyes in a semi-slacker curl, little has changed over the years.
Ever frequent on the touring schedule, the Jicks and Malkmus show hit London’s Electric Ballroom as a precursor to their appearance at All Tomorrows Parties. The show is undersold it seems, but with enough dedicated malcontents to keep the audience participation up and for Malkmus to trade retorts and perform for. “Dynamic Calories” one of the discarded gems from Pig Lib snaps the quartet into action. Before too long cries of “Summer Babe” or whatever Pavement song tickled your fancy began to ring through ballroom. In days gone by, Malkmus would’ve yawned, or ignored it, but this time round he gave the cat callers a response — “you need to pay more to hear that”, “you gotta wait until next year for that one”.
As the contrarian that Malkmus is, the set was littered with new material. And when I mean littered, I’m presuming around one third of tracks played (with titles such as “Cribz”, “Senator”, “Pub Rock” and “Billy Fay”) were completely new to our ears, most likely to appear front and centre on the next Jicks release, which with Pavement reunion likely to take up the rest of 2010 and maybe even beyond, is something we’re likely to have lost all memory of by the time the album arrives. Out of context, it doesn’t make sense. I call an embargo on bands debuting more than 25% new material before an album has had a chance to be leaked. Honestly, we’re just going to stand there rocking on our heels, hoping for a snappy chorus.
Real Emotional Trash is the order for the day. “Gardenia” and “Cold Son” show what Malkmus can do with a little self-editing, while “Dragonfly Pie” and the moronic “Elmo Delmo” tend to out-stay their welcome, but both give room to the lady rhythm section of Janet Weiss and Joanna Bolme to shine. Still, you can’t but help think that 85% of the people standing in this room are here in memory of Pavement. That Malkmus’ work alone, if disregarded from that of anything post-Pavement is irrelevant, yet surprisingly it’s more consistent than anything he ever managed with them. Despite only playing one song from each of his first two albums (the ubiquitous “Jenny and the S-Dog” and the oddly chosen “Ramp of Death”), it was as good a show as you’re ever going to get. At least until reunion time.