Searching the internet for setlists yesterday, I came across Pavement’s set from the Brixton Academy on November 20, 1999; the last time I saw them play live.
That night, the setlist reveals, they played 20 songs, beginning with “Grounded” and ending with “Here”. Finally, the band trooped offstage, apart from Stephen Malkmus, who made his exit in the completely opposite direction. At some point during the aftershow party, the rumours were corroborated: Pavement had just split up.
Tonight, the fourth of four at the Brixton Academy, Pavement begin again with “Grounded”, though “Here” turns up somewhere in the middle of a two-hour, 26-song set. When they finish with “Range Life”, however, Malkmus pulls the same trick he did 11 years ago, leaving the stage apart from his bandmates. It’s something, I’m told, he did the other night, too.
Consequently, it’d be easy to cast Malkmus’ role in this entire Pavement reunion project as grudging, designed to raise some cash for Bob Nastanovich and to get the persistently nostalgic Scott Kannberg off his back for another few years. Plenty of reports from earlier shows suggested that Malkmus was at his most diffident and uninterested, messing about rather than taking the gig seriously.
Pavement always messed about, though, albeit some members more than others; that was part fo the point. And apart from a bit of nonchalant guitar-throwing during Kannberg’s songs, and that (surely wry) departure, Malkmus actually appears more engaged than he often did during Pavement’s latter years.
He has, frankly, good reason to be. For one thing, Pavement are arguably now the musicians he always wanted them to be, so that this epic show is generally tighter and heavier than before (Did “Elevate Me Later” used to sound so full and imposing?), without losing any of the erratic charm. They don’t make a single false start until the 16th song, for God’s sake.
What’s more, these shows must feel like a vindication of sorts. While their ambivalent relationship to fame mitigated against some success, the rapturous acclaim accorded Pavement here must make them feel immensely proud; they really were, it transpires, one of the best and most influential bands of the ‘90s.
Influencing great scads of indie is one thing, of course, and seeing the money is quite another. But one of the many wonderful and sometimes emotional things about tonight’s gig is that I’m reminded what a robust, classical rock band Pavement were, albeit a cherishably eccentric one. As Malkmus’s subsequent solo career has proved, it’s a scholarly love of arcane rock that underpins a lot of his ideas, and that illuminates some of the best songs in a hugely satisfying set: “The Hexx”, “Fight This Generation”, a sublime, pedal-steel-assisted “Father To A Sister Of Thought”.
I’m also reminded that, while all those indie bands studied Pavement so hard, one of the many things they failed to appreciate was the importance of Bob Nastanovich. Nastanovich’s second-kit drumming and shouting can seem extraneous on paper, but live it’s integral to Pavement’s drive and dynamism. More often than not, it feels like “Unfair” is my favourite Pavement song, and it sounds that way here, not least because Nastanovich, prowling the stage like an unlikely rapper and bawling with gusto, is its fulcrum.
More often than not, it also feels like “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” might just be the best Pavement album, and those songs, so often concerned with fame, longevity and expediency, seem especially poignant in the context of a revival. To be honest, though, sentiment possibly clouds judgment on a night when nostalgia may well have got the better of me: it all sounded great. How does everyone else feel?