STEPHEN MALKMUS & THE JICKS at GOTHIC THEATRE | 2/12/14 During their time in Denver, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks were apparently staying in a hotel in Cherry Creek. We know this because Malkmus asked if anyone hung out there or skateboarded in Cherry Creek or went rafting in it. Malkmus engaged in this sort of dry humor throughout the show. Before "Jenny and The Ess Dog," for instance, Malkmus asked if anyone had come in from Wyoming. When some people yelled out in acknowledgement, he said, "We like Wyoming because we like black ice. We like the silent and deadly killer. We call it 'the lung cancer of the road.'"
Malkmus and company started their set off with "Tigers," from 2011's Mirror Traffic. Even though this was the first date of the tour, it seemed like the group was in excellent form, completely comfortable and having fun with playing with new drummer Jake Morris in tow; he fit in perfectly and provided a great balance of power, expressiveness and ear for volume dynamics.
Together, Morris and Bolme made the rhythms seem simple and steady, while subtly controlling the pace in a way that allowed for Malkmus to climb great tonal and emotional heights with his guitar work and singing. In pulling back and emphasizing the rhythm, the two provided the musical equivalent of perspective during this show. It was not an obvious element, but it was one that made a massive difference in the impact of the music. Malkmus and Mike Clark provided the color, drama and atmosphere, but together everybody's contributions made for an inspired show.
Most of the set list came from the act's latest album, Wig Out at Jagbags, and Mirror Traffic, but even the oldest material, including the Pavement songs, got lively treatment. During "Senator," Malkmus lifted the guitar so that he was playing the solo at the end behind his head. This proved the beginning of many unusual positions in which Malkmus held the guitar in executing impressive lead parts -- clearly a part of the fun and playfulness of being a musician for him. And at the end of "Senator," Bolme joined him in playing her bass with behind her head. Goofy? Yes, but it definitely added to the fun, as they were clearly having a little fun with each other.
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One interesting aspect to Malkmus' guitar work that seemed more obvious this show happened toward the end of "J Smoov," where Malkmus played the guitar and manipulated the feedback and tone so that the riffs sounded like the equivalent of fireworks moving in variable speeds in slow motion. It was almost like Malkmus and the band were so in synch they could give the impression of slowing down and speeding up time to experience the joy of making those sounds at their own desired pace.
Other bands probably do this all the time, but it was very noticeable here and then at other points in the show. Malkmus also seemed to freely use his fingers and a pick in a way that made it impossible to figure out which he might have been using at any given moment unless you watched closely. Whatever it was the guy was doing, it made for a kaleidoscopic array of sounds and textures that gave him a broad palette of tones.
The main set would have ended with "Forever 28," but Bolme, Clark and Morris started playing an instrumental version of the Styx song "Come Sail Away." Malkmus left the stage at that point, and the trio continued through the song before leaving stage themselves. But everyone came back for a bit of an extended encore that included two Pavement songs, including one that was tagged on to the end of a cover of Steve Miller Band's "Swingtown," of all things.
But before the encore got going Malkmus told us, "These two songs are kind of like our 'Come Sail Away' with its two parts. After that we'll jam out some." And he kept his word as "Swingtown" segued into the classic Pavement song, "Box Elder." The show ended on "Baby C'mon," during which Malkmus treated us to some more unique guitar positions from which he rocked out along with the band and made it feel like we got to see something special.
The show opened with Detroit's great noise punk/garage rock band Tyvek. Seeing the band at the Gothic instead of at a small club was interesting, partly because its large sound got the proper treatment of fidelity to make up for the relatively less intimate environment. The band's drummer, Beren Ekine, had on a great, speckled green Wipers T-shirt -- which was perfect because the band's music had that kind of music within music sound.
Kevin Boyer plays splintery yet grittily atmospheric guitar, and he composed his melodies so that it was like two parts were going on at the same time. And he often switched between the two, or cut them up and spliced them together within a song, for an effect like something Greg Sage of Wipers might do, without really going for that larger the life melancholia and desperation that made the Wipers great.
Tyvek's music had that same sort of emotion, but it was brighter and warmer, in adddition to being urgent and expressive. The guitar tones were reminiscent of the sharp metallic sound of a Big Black or Shellac, but not clipped. Rather the sounds resonated melodically. Some of the set came from the excellent 2012 album On Triple Beams, including "Returns" and "Underwater," from 2010's Popeprs, and resulted in an especially energetic performance.
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks Gothic Theatre - 2/12/14 Englewood, CO
01. Tigers 02. Planetary Motion 03. Rumble at the Rainbo 04. No One Is (As I Are Be) 05. Cinnamon and Lesbians 06. Spazz [?] 07. Shibboleth 08. Lariat 09. Jenny and the Ess Dog 10. Senator 11. The Janitor Revealed 12. J Smoov 13. Scattegories 14. Animal Midnight 15. Houston Hades 16. Independence Street 17. Forever 28 18. Come Sail Away [instrumental Styx cover/tease]
19. Asking Price 20. Stick Figures in Love 21. Father to a Sister of Thought [Pavement song] 22. Swingtown [Steve Miller cover] 23. Box Elder [Pavement song] 24. Baby C'mon
Personal Bias: I've been a longtime fan of Stephen Malkmus's twisted/inspired/colorfully imaginative guitar work for years. With the Jicks, his music is elevated to another level. Random Detail: Ran into David Devoe of New Ben Franklins, photographer Mike McGrath and electronic musician EifiE at the show. By the Way: Wig Out at Jag Bags is easily one of Malkmus's finest records.
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