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Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (Sunday, June 12th, First Avenue, Minneapolis)

Stephen Malkmus - Publicity photo

By Maura McAndrew

“Underwhelming.” That was the word my friend used to describe the show Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks played Sunday night at a mostly-full First Avenue. I’ve been a big Pavement fan for years, and I’ve also been mostly happy with Malkmus’ solo catalogue, especially the just-released Face the Truth, a poppy, noisy Pavement throwback that I welcomed after the silly kitsch and jam-heavy tones of Stephen Malkmus and Pig Lib, respectively. It seems, listening to this album, that Malkmus has finally found his comfort zone as a solo artist.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to the show. I was happy to hear the new album in its entirety, and hopefully some worthy tunes from the first two. I had been informed, regretfully, not to expect any Pavement songs, so I let the dream die and tried to set my expectations appropriately. In the review of Kaiser Chiefs I wrote a week and a half ago, I noted that though they were a charismatic live band who tried to deliver the best show possible, the material was lacking. I would say that Malkmus and the Jicks suffered from the opposite: great material and a half-assed, self-indulgent live show.

The night started off dismally with openers Paik. When I looked up this Michigan-based band on AllMusic.com, their “moods” were listed as such: “hypnotic, detached, trippy, druggy.” I guess that’s pretty accurate. Paik was easily one of the most boring live bands I’ve ever seen, and their brand of repetitive three-chord instrumental “space rock” did little to electrify the crowd. What they lacked in musical variety they made up for in pretentiousness, standing on stage like mannequins, pausing after each five minute-plus opus for the weak drizzle of applause that awaited them. With little fanfare, their set was brought to a close; the final song ending with a drum beat that sounded pretty close to a person falling down a flight of stairs. The audience breathed a collective sigh of relief, and we awaited the entrance of Malkmus.

A little before midnight, Stephen wandered onstage, accompanied by the Jicks: bassist Joanna Bolme, drummer John Moen, and guitarist/organist Mike Clark. The set began well, with Face the Truth’s opening track “Pencil Riot.” Malkmus was aloof, with his hair in his eyes, conservatively dressed in khaki pants and a white button-down shirt. “I was singing AC/DC songs at karaoke and I lost my voice,” he deadpanned, though his trademark fragile vocals were completely intact. The band played through some good, though not mind-blowing tracks, such as Pig Lib’s “(Do Not Feed the) Oyster” and Face the Truth’s “Loud Cloud Crowd,” the first track on which Malkmus’ vocals were turned up loud enough to really appreciate.

What was inexplicable about the set, however, was the number of tracks that no one (who I was with) had heard. I counted around three tracks, including the set closer, that were not from any of Malkmus’ solo albums, and were certainly not Pavement songs. Were they new tracks? No one could figure it out, though none of them were remarkable. Mostly the band played through the new album, the highlights being the beautiful “Freeze the Saints” (which Malkmus unfortunately had to start over because he couldn’t “hear himself”), “It Kills,” and the shambling “Baby C’mon.” Moen and Clark seemed the only two band members having a good time, as Moen playfully put his feet up on the drum kit and Clark, when not playing, danced spastically. Malkmus and Bolme were somewhat humorless, with the former making wry comments but never really interacting with the crowd, and the latter only reprimanding a drunken fan, asking if he had someone to drive him home. Maybe Malkmus should write a song called “Joanna Don’t Be a Buzzkill.”

On the encore the band had a little more fun, with Clark plucking out the theme to The O.C. (Phantom Planet’s “California”) on the organ before launching into “Jo Jo’s Jacket,” one of two tracks played from Stephen Malkmus (the other being “Church On White). Moen and Malkmus swapped places for the next song, ending the night on a more playful note.

Altogether though, I was not blown away. The band seemed sloppy and tired, and the unfriendly vibe coming from the stage didn’t help matters. This may have been due to the hot, sweaty First Avenue atmosphere, as well as sound difficulties (it seemed the sound just kept getting turned up until it reached an ear-bleeding level). Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks are obviously not a young band; they’re not very excited about what they’re playing. Like other artists with many years in the business behind them, Stephen Malkmus has a seemingly self-serving attitude when it comes to playing live shows. But when you’ve got as many fans as he does, you have to remember that you may not be excited, but we are.

Maura McAndrew is maura.mcandrew@howwastheshow.com