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Stephen Malkmus (Sunday, June 14th, 2005, Electric Fetus and First Avenue, Minneapolis)
Stephen Malkmus at The Electtric Feuts - Photo by Brian Marx

By Brian Marx

The first time I “met” Stephen “SM” Malkmus, I found myself sharing a stage with him and the rest of Pavement at their 1993 L’Ancienne Belgique show in Brussels, Belgium. “Are you gonna jump or should I grab you an instrument?” he asked me through the PA, after I had strategically surfed the wave of the sold-out crowd towards the band and my first and last ever (successful) stage dive. My second SM encounter was a decade later, outside The Loon in Minneapolis, a few hours prior to his taking the stage at First Avenue in support of 2003’s Pig Lib. He confided in me at the time that they had been invited to tour with Radiohead later that summer (which was cool as it had not been officially announced yet.) Cool. All attempts at convincing him I’d be the most efficient roadie ever were laughed off. Crap.

In May of this year, Stephen Malkmus emerged from his basement studio in Portland, Oregon waving his third (and most Pavement-esque) solo release, Face the Truth. Filled with some of the quirkiest and catchiest tracks since Pavement’s Wowee Zowee, it finds SM morphing his pronounced style yet again, adding a little electronica to his prog-rock meanderings. Not to worry though, as these instances are subtle and few, and his trademark, lengthy cascading solos will still slap you in the face.

Fast forward to June 12, 2005. SM stands before a bustling, mostly die-hard Electric Fetus crowd of maybe 80 on a perfect Sunday afternoon. This being my first “in-store” performance, I wasn’t sure what to expect so we arrived early. Any Pavement fanatic should know that an intimate appearance by SM is a rarity, so I was…uh, eager. Not often is this affable yet cheeky frontman exposed to the raw elements like this, sans trusty band and electric guitar to disguise his idiosyncratic ways. Any Pavement fanatic should also know that this gig could go off smoothly, or -- just as likely – turn into a spontaneous and erratic event.

What we got was the latter. SM grabbed an acoustic guitar (on loan from a Fetus staffer) and stepped up to the mike to say, “Wow, the Electric Fetus is bigger than I expected, fetuses usually being really small and all.” And we were off. Malkmus then made an error that a songwriter with a back catalog of maybe 150 songs should probably best avoid: In a statement that would determine the course of rest of the show, he asked, “So, what do you guys wanna hear?” Song after song was shouted out, some Pavement, but mostly numbers from his first solo offering.

In the end, SM played about 6 and a half songs before making it over to the register for the meet and greet. “Play Sin Taxi,” someone would shout. “Oooooooo, yeah, that’s a tough one”. “Play Pink India.” “OK, but it’s gonna be a ghetto-fied version.” Finally, a chuckling SM cleared the air, “Anyone want to hear the new ones? We practiced those.” Excellent versions of Freeze the Saints, It Kills and Trojan Curfew followed. However, you could tell that his voice is used to screaming over a wall of Pavement-induced feedback, as it crackled its way through the softer moments.

What followed later that night at his First Avenue was predictable and fantastic (a night and day difference to the Fetus show.) Back in his comfort zone on the stage with Fender in hand and full band at his back, SM & Jicks brought the rock. After a full day of music that included his eFetus “performance” and Spoon, their midnight set time only made it that much more exclusive. Ripping into their opener (and first track off Face the Truth)," Pencil Rot," SM was all business. Having seen this line-up four times, it was a much more rehearsed SM & Jicks that showed up on this night, making it through most of their latest LP plus an unprecedented amount of new material. Personal favorites included an extended version of "Water and a Seat," the melodic "Dynamic Calories," and the mind-bending "No More Shoes." Trademark smart-ass remarks from Malkmus and band precipitated the attentive crowd in between songs, putting a stamp of authenticity on the show, and one helluva day.

Fetus Setlist:
Freeze the Saints
It Kills
Vanessa from Queens
Trojan Curfew

First Ave Setlist:
Pencil Rot
Dynamic Calories
Do Not Feed the Oyster
Loud Cloud Crowd
Wow Ass Jeans*
Post Paint Boy
It Kills
I've Hardly Been
No More Shoes
Baby C'mon
Church on White
Freeze the Saints
Water and a Seat
Encore: Jo Jo's Jacket, Incense*, Call*

*Taken from stage setlist. Actual titles not known.
KEXP Live Performance

Brian Marx is brimarx@hotmail.com