September 14, 2010
BY MARK GUARINO | Chicago Sun-Times
Pavement, a band unlike most others, acquiesced to convention this year by signing up for a reunion cycle that is allowing its members a quick but hefty payload through all the residual opportunities: a reissue campaign of past albums, a new greatest hits disc, renewed merchandise and festival headlining slots where they can step into an elder statesman role even if they prove they’re more dynamic than the younger bands that play before them in daylight.
The new compilation is titled “Quarantine the Past” but as a stop at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park proved Monday, that may not necessarily be such a bad thing. Like the continuing reunion tours by the Pixies — which, for the record, have now lasted about as long a time the band was even together — a reunited Pavement is demonstrating that its present incarnation as rock veterans may actually be serving this band best.
Songcraft and musicianship were qualities that always lurked in Pavement’s shadow due to a public image that emphasized its so-called “slacker” credentials. But the marathon set — 28 songs just under two hours — showcased just how finely turned their songs really are.
Singer and lead guitarist Stephen Malkmus handled his instrument like he found it a distraction yet hidden in his playing was a strict allegiance to control. His left turns were never slight and, on songs like “Stop Breathin’” or “Fin,” lengthy instrumental passages allowed the band to expand on certain riffs individually and at the same time, but before there was a hint they were drifting into the jam band ether, the song burst open for several big moments until it suddenly stopped on a dime.
That tension between ragged sprawl and strict uniformity kept the songs sounding fresh. Malkmus and guitarist Scott Kannberg, as well as the solid rhythm provided by bassist Mark Ibold and drummer Steve West, had a mightier interplay than their early days that gave them the credentials to flirt with free jazz and then launch power chords. The band’s breezy pop songs like “Spit on a Stranger,” “Range Life” and “Trigger Cut” were reminders that despite the controlled chaos, everything hinged on catchy melodies.
Also, in the ten years that have passed when Pavement was on hiatus, no one has quite filled the shoes of Bob Nastanovich. In fact, there really isn’t any role out there like the one he plays in this band: auxillary drummer, cowbell operator, tambourine shaker, court jester but most essentially, sideline commentator who often hijacks a song by grabbing the handheld microphone, storming the stage and delivering a pummeling scream. Nastanovich’s contributions may read like they’re slight but on songs like “Elevate Me Later” and “Conduit For Sale,” they added to the swirl of surprise detours.
Pavement’s appearance at the austere pavilion on such a serene night was not lost on the band. “This is reminiscent of the first time I walked into Lounge Ax,” Nastanovich deadpanned near the end about the former and beloved rock club in Lincoln Park that closed in 2000. “Except the drummer has a beard.”
It’s too soon to know if Pavement will continue churning inside the reunion cycle or will be inspired to start operating as a working band again. Place your bets on the former. “See you in ten years,” Malkmus said. “Maybe.”