Now that satellite radio features entire channels of off-key indie rock talk-singers fond of inscrutable lyrics, it’s fitting that Pavement has returned to serve as the movement’s elder statesmen.
Eleven years after Pavement broke up, and three months after it reunited for a highly anticipated world tour, Sirius XMU plays its music in heavy rotation alongside Animal Collective, Broken Social Scene, and Grizzly Bear. Last week, Pavement played its first-ever show in its ostensible hometown of Stockton, and then kept the party going with a triumphant appearance at Berkeley’s Greek Theatre. And the band once mocked by Beavis and Butthead for not trying hard enough did a thoroughly credible impersonation of a polished arena rock act.
It wasn’t really that Pavement didn’t try, but rather that it typically displayed little concern with polish — particularly on its early albums, which it emphasized at the Greek. And despite a decade of suspended animation, the punky energy and shambling dynamics of early Pavement sound as fresh as ever. Bangers like “Zurich Is Stained” and “Frontwards” raged with the droning guitar dynamics of Stephen Malkmus and Scott Kannberg, while percussionist Bob Nastanovich stalked the stage and added his trademark shrieks to “Stereo” and “Unfair.” Meanwhile, the songs that pass for ballads in its body of work — “Range Life,” “Shady Lane,” and “Here,” but sadly not “Major Leagues” — remained oddly affecting.
Pavement’s members were legendary for not getting along, but there weren’t any signs of that at Friday night’s show. The band played 26 songs in typically unharmonious harmony, and even reunited with original drummer Gary Young for the final set, which favored early classics off of Slanted and Enchanted; Watery Domestic; and Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. It would have been nice to hear a few more songs from the polished-but-less-collaborative Brighten the Corners and Terror Twilight. But if band members kept the peace by neglecting the albums on which they began to drift apart, no one who saw their reunion is likely to complain.