Steve Malkmus at Chevron Festival Gardens
It's always 1996 somewhere. By this stage, Stephen Malkmus - both solo and with the Jicks, as he is presently - is very much a known quantity. Every couple of years now he pushes out a new record of proggy, insouciant guitar songs that in trade insight and inanities ("what the senator wants! is a blowjob!") with equally shaggy fervour. They're solid, but for the rabid and eternally growing Cult of Pavement, they are tic tacs to a lion, an asteroid belt to a bunch of giant, ancient planets. Judging by the appreciative but anaemic response by the packed crowd to ninety percent of the Jicks' set at the Festival Gardens on Sunday, experiencing SM live in 2015 is for most now mainly a way of keeping communion with an ideal long ossified, like reupholstering a car without any wheels.
As such, it's easy to take for granted how spectacular the Jicks are, however much the set lags due to Malkmus' new fecundity for proggy ballads that take the long way round to a full stop. Jake Morris plays the drums like Animal, but provides backing falsettos that would comfortably slot in the upper registers of a Queen singalong anywhere. When bassist Joanna Bolme combined for some rare harmonies, the band attained that balance of the sublime and sarcastic that Malkmus has always been fake-reaching for.
"Teenagers" was a particular highlight, but the songs of SM are almost secondary to the experience of SM himself. On stage, he's a perfect unity of voice, guitar and banter, everything as sleepy, wide-awake and disjunctive as possible. On stage topics of discussion: the line wolf motorcycle club, how chlamydia "fucks with your plumbing", and the existential emptiness of Vampire Weekend. His guitarwork as ever is sort of like a perfect harmony of very lazy spheres, like the periods on Mt Olympus where it's all just grape peeling and sexual exhaustion.
This spectacle remains undimmed, so for the true faithful, the songs don't matter so much. He rewarded the increasingly frantic calls for the old stuff by tearing into the encore with old sundry track "Lions (Linden)", but that was about it of the old. Needless to say, it received the most ecstatic response of the night, but when you've formed a cult of personality, it matters less if the homily is off point. Here, Malkmus proved he was, is, and probably forever will be.
- Alex Griffin