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Pavement, Brixton Academy, Brixton, May 13th 2010

May 16, 2010

For Astral and me, 1994 to about 1999 constituted our ‘baby gap’ years, when the demands of having a young family meant we didn’t get out much, except to Sainsburys to stock up on Pampers and cheap merlot. Pavement fell right into that gap – with the exception of their first album, Slanted And Enchanted, their career frankly passed us by. Their demise in 1999 went unnoticed in our household and, apart from seeing Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at Green Man three years ago, they only came back on my radar when these reunion gigs were announced and I began to explore their uncharted back catalogue.

The sold-out Academy was packed as support band Broken Social Scene came on. This ever-changing Canadian line-up has had good press in recent years, and four guitars and two drum-kits has got to be worth a listen, but I was mildly disappointed. Most of the songs seemed to be new, but they suffered from Brixton Academy’s support band syndrome – crappy sound – and weren’t strong enough as songs. In fact, the instrumental episodes of their set were the best, without vocals and allowing the guitars to weave into one another. A mixed bag.

Pavement took the stage to a huge roar and launched into three songs – Grounded, Gold Soundz and Elevate Me Later – without pausing for breath. Quickly it became clear that they were having fun which, according to reports, wasn’t the case at the shows earlier in the week. The band were relaxed but the playing was tight and the sound was just on the edge of what the Academy can stand. I’ve mentioned before the challenge of getting good sound out of this venue, but Pavement and their team did very well.

As with Frontier Ruckus the night before, there’s a temptation of seeing laid-back or ‘slacker’ bands as somehow lazy or offhand in their playing. I’m sure nothing’s further from the truth – Pavement really impressed with the power and cohesion of their playing, despite the larking about. True, we had a couple of false starts, but that’s par for the course with them, by all accounts.

The crowd was up for a good time, too, and I enjoyed being in a packed venue without having someone throw beer at me, vomit on my shoes or spend the whole gig shouting at his drunk girlfriend and taking camera-phone snaps of his even drunker mates. The crowd did a lot of singing along, notably on Shady Lane, Summer Babe and the excellent rant Two States – this last song being one of their entertaining North California diatribes against SoCal and its thirst for the North’s water and other resources:
   Two states!
   We want two states!
   North and south,
   Two, two states
   Forty million daggers…
   Two states!
   We want two states!
   There’s no culture,
   There’s no spies,
   Forty million daggers…

This is also one of their songs that sounds most like The Fall in its relentless rhythm and ranting vocals. Indeed Pavement have been slagged off by Mark E Smith as copycats, but he’s clearly never really listened to them closely. Yes, you can spot strands of Fall-ish music in theirs, but there are also great dollops of Sonic Youth, The Pixies, Nirvana and others.

The North-South California conflict is picked up too in Unfair:
   Up to the top of the Shasta Gulch
   And to the bottom of the Tahoe lakes,
   Man-made deltas and concrete rivers,
   The south takes what the north delivers.

I did a bit of delving into the history of California and the Northwest and had no idea the extent to which water plays such an important part in the politics of those states (despite having seen Chinatown many times) and was amused to find this old poster (left) expressing the conflict in a very graphic way.

The influence of The Fall also shows itself in some of the song titles, such as Zurich Is Stained, but what’s striking about Pavement tonight is how rock ‘n’ roll they are – no longer leaders of some indie fringe, but players who can make a claim on the heights of the mainstream too. It’s idle to speculate what would have happened if they hadn’t split up eleven years ago, but the sheer musicality and energy of songs like In The Mouth A Desert make you wonder what might have been – and if they can stay together long enough this time to take their creativity further. We shall see.

If you don’t care much for this review, take a look at John Mulvey’s fine review on the Uncut website. In fact, sign up for his blog posts as he’s a perceptive and enthusiastic critic who happens to share many of my tastes, which helps… Meanwhile, entertain yourself with Pavement’s In The Mouth A Desert from a couple of weeks ago in Dublin:

4 Comments leave one →
  1. wallernotweller permalink
    May 16, 2010 11:21 am

    i saw them the day before and loved it too. Here is my review…

  2. May 17, 2010 8:13 pm

    Mark Edward Smith thinks every vaguely atonal clattering band with a monotone-ish vocalist is a Fall rip-off. The fact that Pavement also have dollops of Sonic Youth won’t assuage his rage; he invented them too! Having said that, both bands (Pavement and Sonic Youth) have recorded cover versions of Fall tunes. Pavement’s cover of ‘The Classical’ is properly shambolic. I think they only do this so that Smith gets a few dollars royalty thanks to the yanks and stops getting on their case.

  3. brandnewguy permalink*
    May 18, 2010 12:10 pm

    Haha – yes, I suspect Mark E might accuse Can and Faust of pre-plagiarism 😉


  1. Mark Kozelek, Union Chapel, Islington, July 29th 2010 « A Gig's A Gig

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