Pavement in Berkeley: Fucking Righteous

Last weekend we made the arduous three hour drive from Los Angeles to Visalia, where our friend Ken took over the wheel for another three hour trip up to Berkeley to see the legendary over/underrated Pavement.

I’ll admit, I was questioning the sanity of this trip even before we started. But it ended up being a worthwhile endeavor. It was great to see Ken and Jenny, and we also got to hang out with my friend Juan who I hadn’t seen in years. I actually enjoyed portions of the drive, as even the barren stretches of California have their charm.

Also, the show kicked ass. I had read enough reviews of the reformed Pavement to know they would most likely put on a good performance. All reports told of a refreshed, enthusiastic, yet still endearingly laid back band, possibly in better shape musically than they were in their “prime.” We were not disappointed.

I had seen the band twice back in their heyday, with mixed results. The Crooked Rain tour in 1993 found them at the height of their detached snarkiness, and my fanboy zeal starting to wane. I recall being entranced by “Newark Wilder,” yet annoyed that Steve Malkmus let percussionist/court jester Bob Nastanovich yell over his parts during “Unfair” and “Debris Slide.”

By the time the Lollapalooza tour rolled around a few years later, I was pretty much over Pavement. Wowee Zowee seemed like a letdown (I still think it’s incredibly uneven), and I remember halfheartedly strolling across the field to watch their set. I don’t know if it was my state of youthful inebriation or the outdoor atmosphere, but the band was in top form, and “Grounded” and “Fight This Generation” took on a new life during that performance.

The years after they broke up were filled with occasional drunken arguments about the “importance” of Pavement. But the one thing that became obvious was that the good songs were aging very well, and even the so-so tunes were better than a lot of what the new crop of indie bands were churning out.

So I was ready to give these guys their due. Traveling to Northern California seemed to make sense, as Malkmus and Spiral Stairs came from Stockton originally, and it was like seeing them on their own turf.

The Greek Theater at the UC Berkeley campus was quite beautiful, and a different experience from the Greek here in L.A. Being located deep inside the campus as opposed to the border of a residential neighborhood made it seem more private, and the thick cloud of pot smoke drifting upwards (and lack of security) seemed to confirm that no one was going to hassle us.

Quasi played a decent warm up set, and before we knew it, Pavement were onstage tearing into their calling card tune, “Cut Your Hair.” A string of familiar tunes followed, which made me reflect on the fact that Pavement sure have a lot of “hits” for a band with no chart success. I’m not sure if any non-Pavement fans would recognize these songs, but most of the audience was singing along to “Frontwards,” “Stereo,” “Gold Sounds,” “Zurich is Stained,” and “Rattled By The Rush.” There were few surprises in the main set, as more signature Pavement tunes poured forth: “We Dance,” “Grounded,” “Silence Kit,” “Elevate Me Later,” “Unfair,” “In The Mouth A Desert,” “Shady Lane,” etc.

I was excited to hear “Starlings of the Slipstream” and “Date With IKEA” from Brighten the Corners, and some improvisational jamming during “The Hexx” and “Stop Breathin'” proved that Pavement still knew how to keep it loose. Bob still overcompensated on “Unfair” and “Debris Slide,” but we were all yelling along too, so it didn’t matter.

The real treat for me came towards the end, when original Pavement drummer Gary Young came out for a few songs. I knew he was going to play at their Stockton show, but this was an added surprise. Gary’s performance got increasingly ragged, but it provided the opportunity to see Bob N. in his original role: keeping time for Gary on the second drum kit. Longtime drummer Steve West deserves special mention here as well. Not only has his drumming improved greatly since Pavement called it quits, but he also enthusiastically picked up a guitar and jammed along while Gary sat behind the kit.

The Gary segment included several favorites from the early days, including “Box Elder,” “Here,” “Trigger Cut,” “Summer Babe,” and “Linden.” I was surprised that even after this faultless setlist, there were still plenty of songs I would have loved to hear (see my ridiculous Pavement compilations for a partial list). I think most of us could have stayed there all night, drinking $8 beers and taking in the secondhand smoke.

Hopefully the reunion mania will die down now, and I can look forward to staying home again and saving my money. Or, this could happen.

(Pics by Cecy)

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: