Photo by Joshc
Seattle, WA January 19, 2007
When Stephen Malkmus comes to town, and you like indie rock, just go to the show. Okay? Malkmus started with a unique sound nearly two decades ago and has stayed that way…he is a statue of confidence and consistency in a sea of silly little fads.
Opening was Entrance, a droning gypsy blues band headed by 25 year-old Guy Blakeslee. Neumo’s was uncharacteristically deserted in the moments before the show; a barefoot woman breezed past me, playing a woodwind. This was unexpected and confusing. When the three band members took the stage – each with longer hair than the next – I realized we had a hippie-ish situation on our hands. I couldn’t help but shudder.
Turns out these particular hippies were actually pretty cool. Blakeslee was a larger than life persona, if not by his rail-thin Morrison looks then by his guitar playing, which was inspired. The guy can seriously wail on that thing, and wail he did, for the entirety of the set. My favorite move had to be his slow spin move, where he held the guitar up over his head with his right hand and played with his left hand while spinning around near his amp. The songs were not hippy happy but very very hippy scary and serious; this guy is not joking around. Sounds kinda like Wolfmother, and by the end of it I was more than ready for a dose of non-gypsy rock.
After a half-hour set of listening to the especially drunken idiots around me, Malkmus shuffled his way up to the stage, hitting some random notes on the keyboard and singing some bizarre notes. Everyone laughed after every note he sang – this trend was to continue throughout the set. Following the 40 year-old Malkmus is a palpable reverence; his disturbing molester mustache did nothing to break this spell. The guy, for whatever reason, can’t shake off his boyish charm.
Though I have all three Jicks LPs and four singles, the set was more than half unfamiliar to me. This made sense: Malkmus has never been one for nostalgia. He must know that a single riff from, say, Crooked Rain, would throw the crowd into a frenzy, but he withholds, opting instead to work out new material.
The new stuff was more bluesy and jammy than even the bluesiest jammiest stuff off of Pig Lib…songs routinely ticked past five minutes and contained multiple Malkmus-variety solos. When, late in the set, they played “Jo Jo’s Jacket” from their first release, it was amazing how different this song sounded. The band has moved far away from cutesy pop songs like “Jo Jo’s Jacket” and “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” to deal with structures that are looser and moods that are starker.
Malkmus was good – he is good by default. He didn’t go beyond that, and in fact, was acting a little drunkenly. This is only speculation….he didn’t announce that he was drunk. He did ramble on incoherently about Boeing at one point, which was something a drunken person might do. Stealing the show this night was new addition Janet Weiss (Quasi, Sleater-Kinney) on the drums…she basically kicked a lot of ass. When one of their many jams would start to spin out, it was Weiss who would single-handedly bring the band (and the crowd) back to attention. She is a powerful drummer with a powerful voice and a fantastic fit with the band.
Crowd favorites were, obviously, songs that we had heard before as opposed to new ones. “Pencil Rot”, “Water and a Seat”, and “(Do Not Feed The) Oyster” all killed, but hands down the rocking-est song was “Baby C’Mon”, featuring an earth-shattering riff that probably makes Guy Blakesless snicker contemptuously. While Malkmus is regarded as an indie legend, he is also a contemporary musician, and his craft is just as good as ever. A Pavement reunion may or may not happen, but The Jicks are now and the Jicks are good.