Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Holy Sons

Oct. 5, Earth House

5 stars

We were standing in an alley beside the Earth House last night before the show when a black van pulled up. Out of it emerged a tall, wiry guy with a comical sort of store-bought hillbilly look about him; he was wearing a sleeveless white T-shirt and jeans, his long hair stuck out of the back of his trucker hat in a sort of mullet. He almost looked like a frat boy playing dress-up for Halloween. And then, it struck me…

“Jesus,” I muttered. “It’s him.”

Stephen Malkmus, founder of the legendary alternative band Pavement and hipster idol, was right there in front of us. The others with me turned to look, but by that time he’d already skittered away in that particularly rodent-like way celebrities have when they don’t want to be noticed.

Half an hour later, Malkmus took the stage with his band, The Jicks, and started right off with “Stick Figures in Love,” one of the most notable tracks from the band’s new album, Mirror Traffic, released earlier this summer. The new album, produced by Beck, has a more souped-up and clean feeling than much of The Jicks' earlier stuff — or anything he did with Pavement. Most of the songs on Mirror Traffic are of a nice and tidy length, laden with guitar riffs, solos and good, driving beats. Malkmus made sure to trot out the best of the best last night.

The band played “Brain Gallop” next, also from the new album, before turning to “Animal Midnight,” a song from Pig Lib (2003) that The Jicks turned eerie and ghoulish, letting the synth have extra time. Just three songs in, Malkmus had already gotten into some stage shenanigans, playing his guitar upside-down and backwards. But there was nothing shenanigan-ish about the incredible guitar work he displayed on “Animal Midnight,” his mesmerizing arpeggios seeming to take straight off into outer space.

Throughout the course of the set, which lasted nearly 90 minutes, it was apparent that Malkmus has become a master guitarist. Mirror Traffic is so tightly-produced and sometimes spare that it’s easy to overlook the way Malkmus is able to come in at the right time with the right note and not overdo it. Live, however, it was evident that his seemingly effortless guitar work can be attributed to an impeccable sense of timing and a highly-developed sense of restraint.

After trotting out “No One Is as I Are to Be,” and “Forever 28,” Malkmus made time for a little bit of Colts banter, joking that Peyton Manning is never going to play again, and also claiming he had an inside tip that the NBA lockout would soon be resolved. He also made time for baked goods: At one point, the band was even given a box of brownies by a blonde toddler sitting on his father’s shoulders.

The band threw in a B-side or two, and made sure to deliver two of the best tracks from Mirror Traffic: “Senator,” and, my personal favorite, “Tigers.” Those two cuts are a case in point for the updated, simplified and more direct Malkmus sound. Both songs grab the listener from the opening notes, and their somewhat standard rock song structure seems to be a great format for Malkmus’ poetic and playfully inscrutable lyrics (“Call me petty I mean every word/The ‘ands’ the ‘ifs’ the ‘buts’ and the ‘thes’/Trust me because/I’m worth hating”).

The band closed the set after jamming out to “Surreal Teenager,” but returned for a three song encore on which they played “Jenny and the Ess Dog,” “Church on White,” and a goose-bump inducing rendition of The Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat.”

Portland, Ore.-based Holy Sons opened the night with a set of psychedelic, jam-rock. Essentially the solo-project of drummer Emil Amos, Holy Sons played a few truncated jams that featured classic guitar-rock era solos, but with a harder edge, featuring a buzz bass. They accomplished the effect of having something going on sonically at every moment, but it felt like their position as openers kept them hemmed-in, when what they really wanted to do was jam out on one song for 45 minutes. Personally, that’s what I’d have liked to see.


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