Winter versions: 10 great Pavement covers by other indie / alt artists
"Show me a word that rhymes with Pavement / And I won't kill your parents and roast them on a spit," Stephen Malkmus sings on "Harness Your Hopes," a Pavement b-side that is their most popular song on Spotify. "Pavement" is indeed hard to rhyme and not the easiest band to cover, with their fondness for weird tunings and non 4/4 time signatures.
That doesn't stop people from trying. The internet is littered with Pavement covers, mostly by random YouTubers, which is a hole you can fall down if you so desire. There have been a few notable covers by other indie artists over the last 30 years, though. Most of them are of "Cut Your Hair" and "Here," and usually live versions, but occasionally actually recorded them in the studio, or at least a radio station. We've gathered up 10 cool Pavement covers by artists you may have heard of, ranging from faithful reconstructions to bluegrass, synthpop and elegant cabaret. None of these may top the Pavement original, but a couple of them come close. Listen below.
TEN PAVEMENT COVERS BY OTHER INDIE ROCK ARTISTS
The Wedding Present - "Box Elder" (1990)
Originally a b-side to UK band The Wedding Present's 1990 "Brassneck" single, a lot of indie rock fans heard this cover of "Box Elder" (before they ever heard of Pavement), and due to the lack of credits on the sleeve, many people thought it was a Wedding Present original. TWP bassist Keith Gregory picked up a copy of Pavement's debut EP, Slay Tracks: 1933 - 1969, while on holiday in NYC and they decided to cover what was easily the most poppy song on the record. They cleaned it up, just in case anyone wanted to play it on the radio (John Peel most likely), by changing the lyrics "I had to get the fuck out of this town" to "right out of this town." Like they do with most of their covers, The Wedding Present really made this one their own.
Tindersticks - "Here" (1995)
The prettiest, saddest song on Slanted and Enchanted, "Here" has been covered a lot over the last 30 years but never as elegantly as Tindersticks' version from 1995's The Smooth Sounds Of Tindersticks EP that was released on Sub Pop. The violins and xylophone, not to mention Stuart Staples' weary baritone, imbue "Here" with even more gorgeous melancholy. One of the best Pavement covers.
Nickel Creek - "Spit on a Stranger" (2002)
"Newgrass" trio Nickel Creek had already made waves in Nashville -- their self-titled 2000 album was a country hit -- but they got noticed in indie rock circles with 2002's This Side thanks to a cover of Pavement's "Spit on a Stranger." Mandolin pairs well with Malkmus' breezy melody, even though singer Chris Thile doesn't particularly like their cover (or This Side) now. "I'd love to publicly apologize to Pavement for that cover," he told The Boot in 2012. "I mean, we didn't even get the words right!"
Ben Lee - "In the Mouth a Desert" (2019)
Australian singer/songwriter Ben Lee was just 15 when his teenage band Noise Addict released "I Wish I Was Him," an ode to The Lemonheads' Evan Dando that includes the line, "He even understands the words to Pavement songs." Sixteen years later, Lee had learned the words to at least one Pavement song, Slanted and Enchanted's "In the Mouth a Desert," which he included on his 2019 album Quarter Century Classix. (The album also features covers of songs by Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr, The Breeders and more, all backed by William Tyler, Julianna Barwick and Mary Lattimore.) It's a pretty, spectral version of the song, but as to whether he also now understands Pavement lines like "I've been crowned the King of Id," well... Malkmus lyrics are still famously up for interpretation.
Martin Courtney (Real Estate) - "Major Leagues" (2015)
On Real Estate frontman Martin Courtney's tour for his excellent 2015 solo album Many Moons, he regularly covered this single from Pavement's Terror Twilight to round out his sets. (He also did it at one of our 2015 CMJ day parties.) The original's majorly mellow vibes fit in perfectly amongst Courtney's equally chill originals, as you can hear on this SiriusXMU session.
Superorganism - "Cut Your Hair" (2018)
Pavement are a major influence on multinational indie pop collective Superorganism. Singer Orono told 88.9 Radio Milwaukee she's been "ripping off what Stephen Malkmus sings like" for her own vocal style from the start. The band paid tribute right before the release of their 2018 debut album by covering Pavement's classic single "Cut Your Hair" for SiriusXMU, staying pretty close to the original while bringing some of their whimsical flair to the mix. Meanwhile, Superorganism got Malkmus to contribute to their upcoming second album.
Julie Doiron - "Shady Lane" (2012)
Back in 2012, Eric's Trip bassist Julie Doiron did a weekly residency at her favorite Toronto coffee shop, Saving Gigi, to celebrate it getting its liquor license. The place only held about 25 people. At one of the shows from January of that year she played this terrific solo cover of "Shady Lane," giving a spirited, fun performance that benefits from Julie's charming delivery. She also congratulates the crowd for not clapping at the song's fakeout non-end middle section and afterwards admits the song is one of her karaoke standards.
Number One Cup - "Here" (2003?)
There were a few bands that sprung up in the immediate wake of Pavement's success who owed a clear sonic debt to them, including Sammy, Spent, and -- the best of them -- Chicago's Number One Cup. Having formed after the members met at a Stereolab show, the band went on to release three very good albums or arch, melodic indie rock from 1993 - 1998. The band generally avoided mentioning you-know-who in interviews, but did contribute this understated acoustic cover of "Here" to 2003 Pavement tribute album Everything Is Ending Here, though when this recording specifically dates from is unclear.
Solex - "Shady Lane" (2003)
The Everything is Ending Here tribute that the Number One Cup song is on is a double album, and most of the 36 tracks -- including ones from Bardo Pond, Silkworm, Oranger, The Tyde, and more -- hew pretty close to the Pavement originals. Not so Dutch artist and Pavement's onetime Matador Records labelmate, Solex (Elisabeth Esselink), however, who delivers this glitchy, twitchy and danceable take on "Shady Lane." The tribute album could've used more like this.
Microsound - Pavesynth (2019)
For something completely different, here's San Francisco electronic artist Microsound who specializes in 8-bit style electronic instrumental covers of '90s indie rock. Following tributes to Pixies and Magnetic Fields, Microsound released the Pavesynth EP. The four tracks -- "Cut Your Hair," "Here," "Elevate Me Later" and "Trigger Cut" -- are all transformed into proggy, subtle synthpop. Maybe too subtle -- you might not even realize these are Pavement songs on first listen -- but once you do it's a very cool little record. "Cut Your Hair" in particular is a banger.
BONUS COVER: Wilco - "Cut Your Hair" (Live at Solid Sound 2013, Sky Blue Sky 2022)
Wilco's easygoing charm is a natural fit with Pavement's 1994 Buzz Bin hit, and they've performed it a few times over the years, like at their own Solid Sound Festival in 2013 as seen in their documentary Every Other Summer. Those "ooh ooh oohs" in the main hook are not that easy to sing, as Tweedy and co learn. "Don't leave me hangin'!" he tells the rest of the band after a false start. Wilco got to play "Cut Your Hair" with Stephen Malkmus at their Sky Blue Sky destination festival in Mexico earlier this year and you can watch that, too: