Jenny and Johnny opened this show and received a mixed reception from the crowd at first. But appreciative cheers for the group, which features Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice, increased with every song. The band's sometimes bluesy, jangly guitar pop traversed the territory of country and rock with ease and versatility.
In moments, thanks to its use of unconventional rhythmic elements and expansive melodic structures, Jenny and Johnny resembled a more arid version of Talking Heads. Although Lewis and Rice harmonized well together, it was Lewis's signature sharp, forceful tone and slight up-ward lilt that stood out strongly across each song. And her wry wit and smart observations made what might otherwise be fairly conventional songs into insightful commentary.
One of the first three Neu! albums played between sets, and with a small amount of fanfare, Pavement took the stage at the Ogden for the first time since the '90s. Bob Nastanovich welcomed us to the show, as the guys played an instrumental number before going into "Shady Lane," eliciting enthusiastic reactions from the audience including one guy who marveled, "I can't believe I'm actually seeing this."
Such effusive declarations aside, to be fair, if Pavement sounded better and played better in the past, it would have been hard to believe, because these guys played like they meant it. Even the sardonic Stephen Malkmus couldn't, from time to time, suppress a smile of genuine pleasure at playing these songs again.
What was interesting to witness was how Malkmus and Kannberg pulled apart the melodies and brought them back together in a variety of configurations that truly explored the possibilities and range of guitar interplay, like not nearly enough rock bands ever have.
This was especially true in the songs "In Mouth of a Desert," "Gold Soundz" and "Grounded." Nastanovich handled most of the banter between songs and related a story about how the crew had just been in Butte, Montana, and drank to excess at Maloney's, hoping to share some fun with the ghost of Evel Knievel.
The audience sang along for almost every song with people cheering loudly for their favorites from the outfit's back catalog. And for its part, Pavement delivered a strong performance, with Nastanovich providing the gutsy background vocals, yells and animal noises throughout.
The main set ended with "Stop Breathing," but the guys were coaxed back on stage for an encore, that kicked off with Malkmus teasing a bit of "Lithium" by Nirvana before being joined by the rest of the band. The five-song encore was as raucous as the rest of the set, and when the band closed with "She Believes," no one was ready for the night to end. But at 28 songs and two hours, Pavement gave us all more than could be expected, proving that it's still one of the truly great live bands of the alternative era.
CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Been into Pavement for years but never got to see the band the first time around. Random Detail: Ran into Littles Paia at the show. By the Way: The band only made a brief comment about the altitude once during its lengthy set.
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SET LIST Pavement 09.09.10 - Ogden Theatre, Denver
01. [instrumental intro] 02. Shady Lane 03. Kennel District 04. Summer Babe 05. Frontwards 06. Starlings of the Slipstream 07. Cut Your Hair 08. Father to a Sister of Thought 09. In Mouth of a Desert 10. Silence Kid 11. Zurich is Stained 12. Trigger Cut 13. The Hexx 14. Stereo 15. Date With Ikea 16. Gold Soundz 17. Spit on a Stranger 18. Unfair 19. Grounded 20. Range Life 21. Fight This Generation 22. Two States 23. Stop Breathing
24. Lithium [Nirvana cover] 25. Box Elder 26. Fin 27. Rattled by the Rush 28. She Believes