Photo via Neil Fitzpatrick
Douglas Martin was told that this was to be a collaborative review. Instead, he stayed up until 3:30 a.m. bashing this out solo. He is punk rock.
A sizable portion of the way through Pavement’s set at Hollywood Bowl, Stephen Malkmus announced that it was the band’s final American show, thanking everyone involved with the success of their reunion tour in his usual diffident charm. Pavement’s victory lap has been quite successfu, with headlining stops all over North America, including marquee billing on festivals such as Coachella and the Virgin Free Fest. The company putting on the latter probably should have better utilized their money trying to get the iPhone or, you know, obtaining a better coverage network. Not only a successful tour monetarily, Pavement’s reunion run won the band a renewed cultural cachet — no doubt partially stemming from the reignited interest in gloriously half-assed indie-rock over the past three years.
Though openers No Age won’t and shouldn’t be lumped into that category, they have led the charge in favor of rock music with frayed edges, being critically adored by folks (present company steadfastly included) growing tired of primed-and-pompous orchestral indie. Drawing mostly from excellent new album Everything in Between, No Age played a blistering half-hour set of noise- and shoegaze-indebted punk rock, proving themselves more capable of filling the massive venue than anyone expected. The stomp of new-album highlight “Valley Hump Crash” translated incredibly from the standing room in front all the way to the cheap seats. Ending with “Miner”, the first track on Nouns, the band added an extended noise outro, almost tripling the length of the song and still being able to wrap up in a little over four minutes. In spite of its neat running time, this is probably the most “punk” thing that happened the entire night.
If you created a drinking game with your buddies during Sonic Youth’s set, and one of the rules were that you had to take a sip every time something from Daydream Nation was played, you probably would have gotten pretty drunk. There were a few times during the set where I thought they were going to bring out Mike Watt to do a full reenactment of “Providence”. It’s understandable that the band of Lifetime Indie-Cred Pass holders would write a setlist that would have the most appeal and lift heavily from their most popular record, but at times during their set, you wonder if they’d just play “Chapel Hill” or even the 25-minute version of “The Diamond Sea”.
In spite of the limited range of their setlist, Sonic Youth, to use a cliche, played harder than most acts half their age. Regardless of Kim Gordon being the band’s most overrated member, she was also the band’s most charismatic, impenetrably cool with every shout, and especially when she drew feedback from dragging her bass on the ground. Thurston Moore, with a reddish mop of hair covering his entire face for most of the set, gave a shoutout to The Smell (and probably sold out their John Wiese show that night simply by mentioning it). Lee Renaldo, always the most overlooked member of the group, said a few kind words before launching into an incendiary vocal turn on “Hey Joni”, as Steve Shelley kept a steady anchor underneath all three of them. As good as the Daydream Nation songs are, the biggest surprise and best song of the set was “White Cross”, taken from Sister the Douglas Martin pick for Sonic Youth’s best record.
Over the past few years, Pavement bassist Mark Ibold has been playing bass for Sonic Youth on tour, which is a side-gig very few musicians would turn down, one of which a few of them (present company steadfastly included) might kill off a few guitar techs for the chance to have. Tonight, Ibold decided not to pull double-duty in favor of hanging out with some old friends. In a typical Pavement move, the band opened with their biggest hit, “Cut Your Hair,” eliciting the biggest cheers and singalong of the night. Being Pavement’s final American show, Malkmus was feeling more theatrical than anywhere on this tour or any previous one with his band; motioning the crowd to cheer, holding his guitar sans strap during verses, and rhythmically slapping his own head during the classic Geddy Lee verse of “Stereo” were all what came from Malkmus’ playful mood in Hollywood.
Naturally, the band’s most playful member, Bob Nastanovich, was the night’s MVP. He played a secondary drum-kit alongside drummer Steve West, played one-note harmonica during “Rattled By the Rush,” and– in one of the set’s particular highlights– screamed the chorus of “Unfair” while stalking the crowd. The glittery chords of the now-somewhat-controversial “Gold Soundz” filled the arena as scores of fans stood up and sang along, while Malkmus brushed his bangs out of his face during “Spit on a Stranger” and sang “la-la-las” during the infamous takedown of Smashing Pumpkins in “Range Life”, which was bolstered by gorgeous pedal steel playing. “Grounded”, probably the band’s best song, was missing the squall that both punctuated the recorded version and made it great, and was even further marred by a surplus of botched notes in the coda.
Pavement’s performance lacked grace, tension, and professionalism, but really, so has Pavement’s entire tenure as a band. And this, the official victory lap of a band who sat out the whole the last decade only for their reputation to grow even larger, wasn’t going to be any different. Their nonchalance has always come across to detractors as arrogance, their obvious talent as musicians offset by their utter inability to act like they give a shit. When you are given such a gift, you’re supposed to treat it like one. This night could have been the exclamation point to their career, the night where they all could have played like it was their last, because, well, it was. But Pavement was not interested in winning by anyone else’s standards but their own. For everyone expecting Pavement to finally start trying harder at the end of their one-off reunion tour, the joke’s on you. The last laugh was always how they should have ended their career.