Seen any good shows? Pavement

(Infrequent concertgoer Paul Kaufman catches up with a band from the last era he had time to appreciate.)

Friends, San Diegans, countrymen, lend me your ears. There actually were good records made in the 1990s!

Curiously, most of my faves from that decade came out on a single record label, Matador, which boasted Guided by Voices; Liz Phair; Cat Power; and today’s topic, Pavement. After a decade of Splitsville, they’ve reunited and are coming to a town near you!

Tickets had gone on sale ages ago. I had snapped one up, sure that this was my one chance to see them live, having gotten into them late (that is, after their best records, around 1997). Right before I left for the show, I was thumbing through the New Yorker, which had an article about nostalgic 40-somethings desperately searching their apartments for the Pavement tickets they had lovingly bought the previous year. You know you’re middle-aged when your fave indie band is profiled in the New Yorker.

It’s funny to write about Pavement and include lyrics — more than most outfits, their words on a page look so disjointed that it’s hard to recall there’s a great melody attached:

Case in point — “Rattled by the Rush,” from the gloriously under-appreciated LP “Wowee Zowee”:

Getting off the candelabra
We call her Barbara
, Breeding like larva


She rabble rousing, Dental surf combat
Get out those hard-hats
, And sing us some scat


Blade gushers gush
Chained and perfumed
I don’t need a minister to call me a groom

You dig? Anyway, these senior surrealists were in fine form. I saw them at the Agganis Arena at Boston University, which unfortunately suffered from the echoey sound you’d expect in a hockey stadium. The band looked really happy to be doing this, except for lead singer/guitarist/chief songwriter Steve Malkmus, who didn’t. This was the expected situation.

For me, the high point of the show was the melancholy “Stop Breathing”:

Stop breathin’
Stop breathin’
Breathin’ for me now
Write it on a postcard
Dad, they broke me
Dad, they broke me

The beautiful and tense guitar interplay at the end put the whole crowd in their hand, and then they released us, wanting more. I wished they had been more exploratory, but there was a lot of ground to cover, playing major portions of their landmark early 90s LPs “Slanted and Enchanted” and “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain.”

They also played two of my favorite NoCal secessionist rants in their set.

From “Two States”:

Two states!
We want two states
North and South
Two, two states
40 Million Daggers!

From “Unfair”:

Up, to the top of the Shasta gulch
and to the bottom of the Tahoe lakes
Manmade deltas and concrete rivers
the South takes what the North delivers.

I think I’ll more to say about water in SoCal in a later post. For those interested, Matador is having a huge reunion bash in Las Vegas at the beginning of October. Rock out!

— Paul Kaufman

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The Penetrators

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9 Responses to “Seen any good shows? Pavement”

  1. Mmrothenberg Says:

    Great writeup, Paul! I am not conversant in Pavement, and I will now have to do some remedial study.

    What other shows have people been out to see recently?

    I am not good about getting out to live music … One of the lamest bits is that the new City Winery (owned by a Knitting Factory founder) is two doors from my office on Varick St., and there are a lot of great acts there (including folks we know). Coming back from the city late and turning around the next morning to come to work never seems like an awesome idea at the time, though. :-)

    Plus with Nancy and the kids at home, it’s generally time to get back to the fam. One of these days …

  2. Kristen Tobiason Says:

    I was lucky to see Pavement play in Portland in 1992. Such a great show! I still have my ticket stub.

    “Slanted and Disenchanted” reminds me of my life during the 90′s (o.o) I played it constantly, as well as “Spiderland” by Slint and “Sound & Confusion” by Spaceman 3. There was a lot of wonderful music happening during this time, if you could see beyond Nirvana.

    My fave Pavement song is called “In the Mouth, a Desert”

    “i’ve been down, the king of it, it is all we have
    i’ve been down and i could wait to hear the words
    they’re diamond sharp today”

  3. Paul Kaufman Says:

    Kristen! You saw them in ’92! That must have been amazing. I trade you “I saw them when…” stories for some ’87 Pixies in a tiny Boston bar.

    I love “In the Mouth…”, too. They indeed played it when I saw them. Of course, with recent current events, the opening : “Can you treat it like an oil well, when it’s underground, out of sight?” took on deeper meanings.

    I had always thought it was “I was crowned the king of it”, but the web lyric sites prove I can’t hear.

    Portland! So cool, literally and otherwise.

  4. Kristen Tobiason Says:

    The Pixies just played here in San Diego on Sunday. Many of my friends went, and boasted an amazing performance.
    I’ll bet you paid much less than the ticketmaster price of $55 to see them in that bar. ’87! I’ll bet they played “Caribou” and “Vamos” -- Come on Pilgrim being one of the best indie rock albums ever, in my opinion.

    Paul! You’re super cool.

    Do a search for “The Killing Moon” by Pavement. It’s an awesome version.

  5. Kristen Tobiason Says:

    I saw GBV in the early 90′s too. :-)

  6. Simon Says:

    I saw Pixies Saturday in Vegas. It was both excellent and really expensive. As with Pavement, I was only vaguely aware of Pixies back in the day. They looked elated at all times during this show.

    With more money and energy, I could have seen UB40 on Friday night, then Johnny Rivers at 6:30 on Saturday, Pixies at 8, and Smithereens at 10--3 different clubs…

  7. Paul Kaufman Says:

    >I saw GBV in the early 90′s too.

    Damn, the original line-up? Another wish list item I missed- the later lineups, while certainly tighter units, never made records as golden as the original crew. I should “This we Dug” those guys at some point. Oh, yeah, the original line up is on the Matador bill in Vegas next week….

    >I could have seen UB40 on Friday night, then Johnny Rivers at 6:30 on Saturday, Pixies at 8, and Smithereens at 10–3 different clubs…

    I’ve never spent time in Vegas, and I hadn’t realized that it had become a nostalgic rock mecca. Hmm… wouldn’t you rather see the Tell Tale Hearts and the Morlocks than the Smithereens? And wouldn’t “The Injections” look great on a big marquee on the Strip?

  8. megan s Says:

    I went to see some performers I like, Mark Geary and Marketa Irglova, over this past weekend. It was a tiny venue here in Brookyn, very intimate. What really kind of bummed me out was that it seemed like every other person had their head in their phone/gadget taping, uploading, FBing, recording the performance. Half the audience was watching the performers, who were standing four feet away them, through their phone. Can’t people just be there now and focus on the music? I am old and cranky, yes, but still…

  9. Lou Skum Says:

    I saw Desiree Bassett, she is the greatest guitarist I have ever seen

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