By Max Simon
Seeing Pavement in 2022 is a bit like catching a glimpse of an indie-rock Halley’s Comet. The seminal, yet inimitable band only reunites every 10 years or so, and in between tours it feels like they’ll never come back. They do, though, despite all the false starts and non-commital interviews. For most bands on the reunion-tour circuit, this equates to contentious replicas of what we once loved about that band, but with Pavement, they come back as powerful as ever. In some cases, they’re a better live band now than they ever were.
The 2022 edition of Pavement now includes one crucial piece: Rebecca Cole, a PNW music-scene stalwart. In Pavement, she covers keyboards, percussion, and background vocal duties. While these roles are traditionally covered by Bob Nastanovich, she remained at her station for the whole show, giving Nastanovich room to walk around the stage, screaming and providing between-song banter. Nastanovich’s jester-like presence has been a fixture of their live shows since their inception, and in this era, he genuinely shines providing comedic relief to the music. Cole fills in musical gaps historically found in the live incarnation of Pavement–particularly on “The Hexx” with its eerie, descending synth line; and “Cut Your Hair,” with on-key “o-o ooo OOOH ooo OOOH”s. It’s a revelatory experience having her onstage, especially as someone who grew up with their records, not their shows.
The original members were in damn fine form, too. A decent chunk of the set was dedicated to what we call Pavement “hits” (“Gold Soundz,” “Summer Babe,” “Range Life,” and “Harness Your Hopes”), and they all sounded fantastic. Other songs, like “The Hexx” and “Grounded,” were extended into jammier territory, and were equally enthralling. Stephen Malkmus restated the case for himself as one of the premier guitarists of the 90s with some truly spellbinding, spindly solos. Malkmus’s voice has also taken on a bit of husk, lending gravitas not always found in their recorded catalog. Rhythm guitarist Scott Kannberg wrung some nasty feedback out of his guitar and contributed a truly badass rendition of “Kennel District”--his only turn on lead vocals. Mark Ibold and Steve West held down the rhythm section (with occasional percussive assistance from Nastanovich) and suggested that there’s always been something much more complex and muscular in Pavement’s music than their “slacker-rock” tag let on.
Not everything is better in 2022, though. While Malkmus has never been accused of hitting all the notes, his upper range has diminished a bit over time. More notably, the crowd at McMenamin’s Edgefield Amphitheatre was also the best case for re-criminalizing weed I’ve ever seen. This general sleepiness wasn’t made any better by the chairs set up for higher-paying attendees at the front of the stage, which killed any and all crowd symbiosis. On the other side of the age gap, my friends and I were displaced from our spot in the plebian section by a group of TikTok-teens the moment Pavement launched into “Harness Your Hopes” (which became a part of their setlists only after its streaming service revival).
But I don’t care (I care, I really don’t care). It was beautiful to see the different age legions in attendance, which ranged from prospective liberal arts students to millennials who have listened to them since their college days (& even a few white-pony-tail-and-Keen grandparents). It was also a bit of a homecoming show for Malkmus, who has picked Portland as his primary residence post-Pavement’s initial run. That homecoming feeling was in the air all night–both for the band and for their fans who have waited anywhere from 10 years to a whole lifetime to see them. If nothing else, it was transcendent to shout “NO BIG HAIR” along with multiple generations of Pavement fans on a late-summer Friday night. Hopefully, we can all do it again someday.