Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks + Azita

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks + Azita

By now, all of the Pavement and Malkmus message boards across the Internet are abuzz about the Jicks show in Milwaukee that took place exactly one day after I saw them at the Metro in Chicago. Hardcore fans are debating the merits of the set list and begging each other for recordings of the show. All the commotion owes to fact that, after countless shows of silently enduring Pavement requests shouted by annoying drunks in clubs across America (the one at the Metro was keen on “We Dance”), Malkmus took the stage in Milwaukee and played an entire set of Pavement songs. Fans who caught SM and the Jicks at other points in the tour expressed disbelief, disappointment, and jealousy that Malkmus hadn’t chosen their towns. Not me. A smaller surprise took place at the Metro that night: Azita’s name on the marquee with the Jicks. Azita had her equipment stolen by those shifty Canadians while visiting Toronto, and most people expected local bands to fill in for the rest of the tour. Instead she used this as a rationale for playing “the saddest songs” in her catalog. Live and on presumably borrowed equipment, Azita was simply boring. Even when she announced that she would play some “more rockin'” songs, her set still sounded like one continuous keyboard dirge. There were, however, a few good moments when the band would crescendo together, and given her recent ordeal, I’m inclined to cut Azita some slack. Between sets the staff at the Metro played a host of classic rock radio standards, so when Malkmus took the stage he was singing and playing along with “Sweet Emotion”. Throughout the show he exhibited his trademark sense of humor, poking fun at Interpol, claiming to be Jack White, and telling a particularly enthusiastic young man in the front row that he looked like an Abercrombie model. After joking around with the Aerosmith tune, the Jicks went straight into “Jo-Jo’s Jacket”, one of the handful songs played off of Malkmus’ first album, starting the show off in style with his oft-cited-in-record-reviews tribute to Yule Brenner. The show continued with most of the cuts off this year’s Pig Lib. Live, it’s easier to appreciate the album’s uncharacteristic focus on instrumentation. Most of the songs were either streamlined for production or expanded for touring. For a songwriter best known for his smartass lyrics, Malkmus has become incredibly proficient on guitar, with the Jicks mostly acting as an anchor for both his musical and lyrical virtuosity. “1% of One”, played during the encore, is even longer and more symphonic than the version on record. The ambling, layered instrumentation of songs like “1% of One” and “Animal Midnight” was also nicely broken up by the straightforward classic rock of the absurdist “Vanessa from Queens” and the Beatles-like “(Do Not Feed) The Oyster”. For “Jenny and the Ess-Dog”, Malkmus eschewed his guitar altogether, doing a manic lounge singer act while drummer John Moen kept trying to steal his shoe. As the story of an idealistic couple separated for college ended with “off came those awful toe-rings,” Malkmus rode Moen around on stage, spanking him. The show ended with Malkmus himself taking over drumming duties while Moen sang on a cover of Gram Parsons’ “In One Hundred Years”. The Jicks are known for ending with a classic rock cover, but “In One Hundred Years” suits them less than previous covers of “Never My Love”, “Third Rate Romance”, and “Let the Good Times Roll”. Pavement is gone, and the Jicks are here. And while I won’t subject myself to floods of hate mail by comparing the two, I went to the Metro fully expecting to hear the material from Pig Lib. The show did what all album-support-tour shows should do: it made me appreciate the album even more. Pig Lib is a basically a classic rock album, and, coming from someone like Malkmus, nothing could be more adventurous. Hearing the material live and seeing the energy behind it smooths over its rough spots, and makes its bright spots shine all the more. Pavement ain’t coming back, folks, and that’s certainly a shame, but we should all be happy that the Jicks are around. So, unlike the show in Milwaukee, the evening in Chicago ended without “We Dance”, and the Metro’s resident drunk was rebuffed. And, honestly, I’d rather have it that way.

PopMatters