Saturday, December 22, 2007

too awake to be famous

Any year bookended by Stephen Malkmus gigs can't be all bad. Come to think of it, 2007 hasn't been too shabby a concert year at all. Best of all: It's not close to being over yet!

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Great American Music Hall, December 19, 2007: Last time Steve and the Jicks were in town, he sported an awful mustache. Imagine the relief we felt, then, when he came out before the show to set up his guitars, sporting maybe a day's stubble (and a pair of squared-off wire-rim glasses that could've been ripped straight off Bill Gates's face circa 1988--but that's another story).

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Great American Music Hall, 12-19-07Of course, the state of Stephen's facial hair didn't comprise the only difference between the year's two shows. January's gig was a a trial run with new songs but no product to promote. This time, though the concert wasn't specifically tied to a release, some media outlets are already salivating over the arrival of the Jicks' next album, Real Emotional Trash, in March. In case you weren't aware of its impending delivery, the barrage of new songs that the band kicked out might've clued you in.

Though I can't recall the exact order of songs, I remember they opened with "Baby C'mon," and older tracks "Mama" and "Pencil Rot" also made it into the main set. The encore, in turn, would include "Church on White," "Post-Paint Boy," and (after much begging from an audience member) "1% of 1," but the back catalog ended there. The bulk of the setlist, however, hit up the new tracks, two of which I recognized: "Dragonfly Pie" and "Hopscotch Willie." But since my downloading days are mostly over, that's pretty much the extent of my knowledge of the new material. Also, I swear one of the new songs namechecked Richard Avedon repeatedly, but I'm willing to wait until March for the confirmation.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Great American Music Hall, 12-19-07

What I couldn't have known when I was an overly trend-conscious twenty-something music fan: That one of the musicians who, for me, defined the '90s American indie sound, in all its jagged, insouciant, and contrary glory, would, in his solo career, favor long, meandering jams seemingly inspired by '70s acid rock. Then again, that era doesn't make me cringe as much as it used to, and quite honestly, I'm willing to give Steve and the Jicks the benefit of the doubt.

For sure, the new songs rocked, undoubtedly abetted by Janet Weiss's presence on the drums. She is, in a word, a badass, and her muscular style marks a huge departure for the Jicks. I'm totally guilty of assuming a band is driven by a single presence, and the Jicks would seem to operate under that umbrella. Obviously, I don't know the band's inner workings, but the collaboration is a lot more prominent this time out. Sure, Stephen is still the leader, and you could see Janet, Joanne, and Mike zeroing in on him for cues, especially during the improvisational jams littered throughout the songs. But Stephen, when he wasn't in a zone with his own contributions, gawked in return, often at something Janet was doing.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Great American Music Hall, 12-19-07

For all his years on the road, Stephen remains an atypical frontman, but bless him for the lack of posturing, pandering, and predictability that often comes with the territory. Besides, we like him better as he is. Tonight, that meant he was in a pretty silly mood, as his continual wrasslin' with the sliding mic stand provided the physical comedy, while his repeated harping on Popscene, San Francisco's Britpop club, kept the music snobs (i.e., everyone in the room) giggling.

And lest I forget, Stephen also mentioned his French ex-boyfriend in an effort to get himself off the hook after making some anti-crepes comments. The French DJ team Justice warranted a reference as well. And in a completely different vein, he showed off his semi-local roots with an off-the-cuff composition called "Cupertino Blues" that dropped in references to a bunch of cities in the East Bay, including Hayward and Livermore. However, the song was not, as far as I could tell, a lament about the iPhone.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Great American Music Hall, 12-19-07

Blitzen Trapper opened the show, and despite their seasonal name, they didn't bear any Christmas trimmings, either in their stage setup or their songs. Many of their tunes leaned heavily toward country, but at the same time, they sported a pronounced rock edge. At one point, their drummer broke his snare drum. In a flash, Janet Weiss was up on the stage, lending them her snare. Hooray! Overall, they were pretty good and continued the longstanding trend of great bands I've seen opening for Steve and Pavement.

See also:
» done well is so much fucking better
» penny rich & dollar dumb

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