“It’s a brand-new era, it feels great/ It’s a brand-new era, but it came too late.” That particular line is from “Newark Wilder,” a song that Pavement didn’t include among the 28 they played Saturday night on their glorious victory lap of the post-reformation era, but it neatly sums up what’s been going down around the globe since their opening show in Auckland at the start of March this year. After the choogle of Endless Boogie died down from the PA (a sly nod to Mark Ohe, the art director of Matador, who worked on Pavement projects in the ’90s and mans the bass position in that band) and Stephen Malkmus stretched out at the stage side like he was warming up for an athletic event, the band kicked into “Silence Kit,” the lead-off track from Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, what many consider Pavement’s high water mark. The song starts out tentatively, with a few head feints and false starts before latching onto the groove, and that stylistic tic was truly a relic of their past.
Their present is a band with a well-honed edge and a supreme confidence on stage, despite leader Malkmus’s feigned diffidence. A key upgrade early on in the band’s evolution was the jettisoning of original drummer Gary Young for the more reliable (in personality and time-keeping) abilities of Steve West; that said, I did miss the manic fills that Young punctuated on songs like “Summer Babe,” where West played it straight. The first and only time I saw Pavement, Young was alternately dropping drum sticks and asking for shots. Scott Kannberg remembered that first Boston gig at the Middle East Café and did a quick call out to the crowd asking who was there. Earlier, lead percussionist/stage foil Bob Nastanovich did a tongue-in-cheek query to ask how Section 115 was doing, remembering their roots as a club band and not one who played venues where they could barely see the farthest reaches of the room.
The set list couldn’t have been better picked by a committee of Pavement connoisseurs, with a mix of early (“Conduit For Sale,” with the “I’m trying” refrain shouted by a wild-eyed Nastanovich; with Malkmus echoing Mark E Smith’s vocal shrieks on the chorus of “Loretta’s Scars”; with the lo-fi guitar scratches of “Heckler Spray”) and later material (“Starlings of the Slipstream,” possibly the only song that references a jitney; the sweet lilt of “Spit On A Stranger”; Kannberg’s Byrds-ian chiming guitar figure on “Date With IKEA”) making appearances around the established band classics like “Cut Your Hair,” “Stereo” and “Trigger Cut.”
The set really took off with the one-two punch of “Unfair” and “Fight This Generation,” with Nastanovich playing the id to Malkmus’s super-ego, wildly pacing the stage and screaming into the mic and looking more than a little bit like Will Ferrell in the process. The arrangement changes of “Fight This Generation” clearly demonstrated the virtuosity of Malkmus’s guitar technique, a unique plectrum-less approach that his nonchalance masterfully cloaked this inscrutable and flawless technique.
Some cynics might claim this is a cash-grab ploy, tugging at the ’90s indie rockers’ nostalgia strings. Those cynics would be wrong. In Boston — as, I’m sure, at the reunited-Pavement shows before and after this date — there were generations of the band’s fans either soaking in the improbable rebirth of Pavement or enjoying their first taste of the live experience. And all of them, it seems, would testify to the contrary.