15th January 2014
Indie hero and ex-Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus brought his sun-soaked rock to a rainy Wednesday night in Manchester. Ambling onstage with the ‘Jicks’, loose-shirted and flicking his hair out of his face, he has the air of a man in perpetual teenager-dom. After a few wry mutterings he launches into ‘Planetary Motion’ and ‘Rumble on the Rambo’ before a swig of beer and some nonsensical back and forth with the crowd. But don’t be fooled by the slacker vibe: here is a supremely skilled and professional guitarist, with a razor sharp band, and he’s not afraid to show it off with a set full of 70s style prog jams that fall just the right side of indulgent.
‘Tigers’ and ‘Senator’ draw the biggest crowd response, but for my money, tracks from the new LP Wig Out At Jagbags are his best in years and the most enjoyable of the night. ‘The Janitor Revealed’ sounds like a classic Malkmus merry-go-round of shifting tempos and lazy crescendos. Breezy new single ‘Lariat’, which Malkmus admits he has “no idea how to play live”, is transformed into something more unhinged in this setting. It threatens to derail until he brings it full circle with a killer solo, which is a common feature in the set. In fact, more than the songwriting or renowned wordplay, it’s Malkmus’ amazing musicianship that holds the attention.
There’s no room for Pavement nostalgia tonight, and no one’s asking for it. The one track from the canon we are treated to is a B-side from their last album – one for the die hards. The biggest slice of nostalgia he affords himself is a tongue-in-cheek cover of Led Zeppelin. “We’re gonna play Stairway to Heaven….Backwards!”, he jokes during the encore. On current form I wouldn’t put it past him.