I’ve written before about how I have a cat named Malkmus. But it wasn’t until I saw Stephen Malkmus live again on January 6 that it really struck me how the name is fitting. Malkmus the cat gets away with a lot-knocking glasses off tables and breaking them, ripping up plastic-by being so cute. Same with his namesake. He’s older than forty now, but Malkmus the man still gets away with his boyish slacker status by having whispy good looks and a natural, affable stage charm. All through the show, Malkmus was claiming that 2007 would be the year that he and the Jicks, now with ex-Sleater Kinney drummer Janet Weiss, would turn things around. It doesn’t look like he’s going to follow through on that promise, but then again, would we love him as much if he suddenly became a perfectionist?
If the same old who-cares attitude prevails, what is new is a lot of fresh material from the band. There have been no official statements about when a follow-up to 2005’s Face the Truth might roll around, but over the course of the night, the band must have played most of the material they’re working on. It all sounded very bluesy, jammy (even though Malkmus hates that descriptor), long and drawn out; gone, apparently, is the perfect two-minute Pavement pop of “Box Elder” or “I Love Perth.” Some of these songs even approached the classic-rock heft of Sabbath. A few of the new songs took other directions. On one, Malkmus traded tools with bassist Joanna Bolme, the results sounding very low-end heavy. Another sounded like an Irish sea chantey, with lyrics about Baltimore.
Elsewhere, Malkmus cherry-picked pretty equally from his three albums. (Alas, no old Pavement material). Most of these-“Jo Jo’s Jacket,” “Dark Wave,” “Animal Midnight” and “It Kills”-sounded great, especially with Weiss keeping things in lockstep behind the deck. Poor Malkmus must have at times felt like he wasn’t the center of attention, because audience members were constantly calling out proclamations of love to Weiss. Only when the band tried to slow and quiet things down to get introspective, on “Freeze the Saints,” did things go awry; the sound was just too muddy for that song’s intricate prettiness.
The band finished its original set with the raucous, fun “Pencil Rot” and “Water and a Seat.” Then they came back for a two-song encore. On “Vanessa from Queens,” Malkmus switched around the original lyric “Bob Packwood wants to suck your toes” to the more regional and timely “Barbara Boxer wants to suck your toes.” And closer “The Hook” morphed into a snippet of Velvet Underground’s “Jesus.” Malkmus waved goodbye and walked off, leaving the band jamming for a while. Don’t worry, he’ll be back-lo-fi, low-key and charming as ever.