"Welcome," Stephen Malkmus greeted the crowd at Summerstage. "So, these are the real shows. The first shows. The others were just warm-ups."
The two-hour, 27-song set Pavement played did nothing to dispute that statement. It's true what everybody's said about this reunion tour. They were never this good, never this fun during their original '90s incarnation. At least the three times I saw them. The last time -- Irving Plaza, 1999 -- the band were clearly sick of each other and only percussionist Bob Nastanovich, ever the cheerleader, seemed to be carrying the torch.
Not so tonight though, at the first of four consecutive Pavement shows at Summerstage (aka Central Park's Rumsey Playfield). Malkmus, Nastanovich, Scott Kannberg, Mark Ibold and Steve West seemed to be genuinely having a blast. After "Range Life," Malkmus quipped, "That was a really good version of that one, and I've heard them all."
Opening with "Shady Lane," the set ran through most all the hits, with a few surprises like "Infinite Spark" and "Perfect Depth" -- the latter wasn't on the setlist. (They also swapped out the setlist's "Spizzle Trunk" for "Heaven is a Truck.") "Summer Babe," "Here" and "Spit on a Stranger" (we got nothing from Terror Twilight) were the only songs notably absent but we got "Shoot the Singer" (one of my favorites), plus "Debris Slide" and "Conduit for Sale" both of which featured Nastanovich on the mic, pacing the stage and working the crowd like one of the Beastie Boys.
You get the feeling that Nastanovich, who comes up with the setlists every night, is probably Pavement's #1 Fan. When he wasn't playing tambourine, keyboards, or the drums, he had the crowd cracking up with a stream of non sequiturs ("Did I ever tell you about the time Sun Ra fixed my car in Lexington, Virginia?"). A giant smile was on his face the entire time.
Mine too. For me at least, tonight's show transcended nostalgia. Ten years is a while to be away, but not too long. The guys somewhat shockingly all still look pretty much the same -- yet are playing better than ever. It's enough time to mellow egos, iron out differences and, you know, get better as musicians.. And make us to realize how much we missed them.
If you've been on the fence about trying to get tickets -- there were no shortage of people selling tickets outside the venue -- you should just go. One of the best times I've had at a show this year.
Thee Oh Sees
Openers Thee Oh Sees aren't really suited to such a big stage but made the most of it by packing into a ten foot square of the stage and treating it like it was Death by Audio. They sounded great for their ripping 30-minute set. "I could tell you a million stories about listening to Pavement," frontman John Dwyer said. "But you've all got 'em. They did save me one time on acid, so thanks for that."
There was lots of good between-song banter. Some highlights:
"Thanks for not losing your tickets over the last year." -- Kannberg
"I hear tickets weren't so hard to get this week, anyway. Face value...that's what we like to hear. Less than that...that's not good." -- Malkmus
"That song always reminds me of fondue." -- Nastanovich on "In the Mouth a Desert."
"'Grounded' is my Dad's favorite song. Couldn't you have picked one of mine?" -- Kannberg, who's dad was in the audience.
"I didn't realize they had such good weed on the Upper East Side" -- Nastanovich
"That was the Superchunk version of 'Gold Soundz.' In a good way, obviously." - Malkmus
"The real truth is 'Babtist Blacktick' is too fast for this age group." -- Nastanovich
Pictures continue, with the full setlist, below...
Thee Oh Sees
Elevate Me Later
Starlings of the Slipstream
Grounded...spiral's dad's fave
Rattled by the Rush
In the Mouth a Desert
Cut Your hair
Fight This Generation
Date with IKEA
Shoot the Singer
Conduit for Sale
Heaven is a Truck