Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Blintzen Trapper Thursday, November 6, 2008 The Gothic Theater, Englewood Better Than: A musical legend falling back on past glory.
Opening the show was Blintzen Trapper. I have to admit I wasn’t too much into the band before the show or even afterward but it seemed clear that its members had learned a thing or two from listening to Pavement records. The band’s songs reminded me of Neil Young trying his hand at the indie rock he influenced, while collaborating with the early Grateful Dead or Supertramp. There was a decidedly '70s rock feel to what was going on stage but not in a way that sounded hopelessly worshipful of the past. What I loved about a couple of Trapper’s songs was how they seemed to effortlessly transition dusky sounds into dark with masterful blendings of tone.
As the frontman of Pavement, Stephen Malkmus could have just milked what he’d already done but with his albums with the various incarnations of The Jicks, he’s taken what he did well in his old band further and proved it this night.The Jicks took the stage after Trapper without a lot of pomp and circumstance and got right to “Pencil Rot” from Face the Truth. Janet Weiss played with her head facing down but with her arms striking out with perfect power and precision, like a woman taken by a particularly intense trance through much of the set. “Hopscotch Willie” featured an impressive interweaving of guitar leads between Malkmus and Mike Clark that transmogrified into a fragmented, free jazz freak out toward the end of the song.
After a dizzying performance of “Out of Reaches,” Malkmus told us about how the wind blowing through Kansas or Nebraska or some place “out east” had knocked trucks off the highway as they were passing through and that maybe it was “the winds of change blowing.” Elsewhere during the set, the band played extended versions of songs from across Malkmus's four solo albums, including “Dark Wave” and “Dragonfly Pie,” with its abrasive yet melodic textures. Malkmus was clearly having a good time and joked with the audience between songs in his dry and deeply sarcastic style. When the band completed “Church of White,” each member left the stage with Malkmus walking backward and then more or less tripping on Clark’s guitar and amp, catching himself at the last second and doing a kind of hand spring over the amp with surprising grace. And to me this scene exemplified his music from as far back as I can remember. What Malkmus has always done well in his songwriting is to take the awkward moment and make it into a thing of beauty and a grace all its own.
We all knew there would be an encore, mainly because before the set was over, he responded to a request from the audience by saying he and the band could play it during the encore. The song in question was “Freeze the Saints,” and that number was followed by “Baby C’mon,” in which a number of people in the audience sang the choruses along with the Jicks. For the final two tracks, Malkmus called Blintzen Trapper on stage, and together, both bands performed rousing renditions of Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grape Vine” and “Funk #49” by The James Gang to send us on our way.
-- Tom Murphy
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Personal Bias: In many ways, I’ve enjoyed Stephen Malkmus’ post-Pavement work with more consistency than the material of his old band. Random Detail: Malkmus switched between a Gibson Les Paul, a Fender Jazzmaster and an acoustic guitar throughout the show. By the Way: There were signed copies of the vinyl for sale at the show for about as much as the vinyl would cost if you bought it at the store.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks Gothic Theater, 11.06.08
01. Pencil Rot 02. Water and a Seat 03. Hopscotch Willie 04. Out of Reaches 05. Baltimore 06. Bill Fay 07. Cold Son 08. Dark Wave 09. Gardenia 10. Dragonfly Pie 11. It Kills 12. Cribz 13. Real Emotional Trash 14. Church of White
Encore 15. All Over Gently 16. Freeze the Saints 17. Baby C’mon 18. I Heard it Through the Grapevine 19. Funk #49