Considering the band split apart in 1999 and most everybody in attendance bought tickets to the show a full year ago, there wasn’t going to be anything keeping hardcore Pavement fans from Wednesday night’s (September 22) concert at Rumsey Playfield in New York’s Central Park. The weather certainly tried though, as a thick fog of humidity gave way to steady rain and a spectacular display of lightning (so spectacular, in fact, that the producers actually pulled the band off stage for 15 minutes half way through the set, for fear of lightning strikes).
With the weather threatening to derail the entire evening, Pavement found a completely new gear. Eschewing the sharp between-song banter that colored earlier shows on this reunion tour, the band tore through their set mostly in an effort to cram in all their songs but also because they remain clearly thrilled by the aspect of playing these tunes together again. At their peak, the knock on Pavement was that they took their shabby indie aesthetic entirely too seriously, which often came across as apathy (especially in a concert setting). But something clearly lit a fire under the asses of Stephen Malkmus, Bob Nastanovich, Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, Steve West and Mark Ibold, as they were feisty, firey and tight (despite a few false starts).
It’s strange to say that a band as small as Pavement stuck to the hits, but they definitely know what their crowd-pleasers are and acted accordingly. Songs like “Summer Babe” and “Cut Your Hair” — two of Wednesday night’s highlights — were written to be cheeky, ironic takes on actual anthems. But with the benefit of time, nostalgia and experience on their side, they evolved into actual hands-in-the-air singalongs that made the crowd temporarily forget that they were soaking wet. The group built up a staggering level of momentum, shifting from rugged rock grooves to looser, jammier moments with incredible precision that was probably impossible when the band was at its most popular.
The group also seemed to be having a genuine amount of fun, which made the tunes that allowed for interplay between Malkmus, Nastanovich and Kanneberg (like “Stereo” and the night-ending “Conduit for Sale!”) especially thrilling.
The break to let the lightning pass slowed down the band’s momentum a bit, leaving the last 40 minutes of the night a tad less thrilling, but they saved some of the best songs for the end, breaking out vintage favorites “Father to a Sister of a Thought,” “Date With IKEA” and the pretty “Spit on a Stranger.”
“Thanks for sticking with us,” Malkmus said at the end of the set. He was probably talking about the rain, but he could have been talking about the 10 years in between appearances that gave his quirky songs a new energy that he clearly enjoyed. Will Pavement make another album? It seems doubtful. But they sure do seem to like being in Pavement again.