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Pre-Fork: Stephen Malkmus

By Lizz Kannenberg in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 12, 2007 4:25PM

2007_07_malkmus.jpgIn the blog age of the hyper (and overhyped) search for the Next Big Thing, an artist’s shelf life as a “big deal “in the independent music world is dwindling to little more than one sold out tour and a trackback in year-end review posts. Gone are the days when one band set the bar for a genre and then completely redefined it, all to the great satisfaction of its fans and its critics alike. Stephen Malkmus and Pavement were that band in the pre-webzine 90’s, when college radio still crowned the princes of the underground and mix tapes were as close as most fans got to not paying for music. With his literary turn of phrase and knack for complex yet accessible pop arrangements, Malkmus was the prince of the last decade in which the music may have mattered more than how one obtained it or who paid how much to play it.

Since graciously stepping down from his throne with the announcement of Pavement’s indefinite hiatus after the Terror Twilight tour in 1999, Malkmus has released three albums of solo work with his backing band, The Jicks, and has performed as half of The Silver Jews (with poet, lyricist, and resident eccentric David Berman). While his post-Pavement efforts have never earned him the accolades bestowed upon his former band, fans attest to the joi de vivre that permeates Stephen Malkmus (2001), the darker yet comfortable Pig Lib (2003), and the basement-tape honesty of Face the Truth (2005). While it’s certainly a mind bending notion to watch and listen to such a rogue force in alternative music become a middle-aged family man, the passage of time has allowed Malkmus’ storytelling brilliance to breath and has offered him a number of opportunities to explore the breadth of his abilities. Being a torchbearer of a musical generation means that one gets to play with a who’s who cast of influential and groundbreaking artists, and since the millennium Malkmus has shared the stage with Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, Chicago avant-garde maestro Jim O’Rourke, and former Sleater-Kinney and current Jicks drummer Janet Weiss.

The summer of 2007 finds Malkmus wrapping up the studio process on his fourth solo effort for Matador Records and making a lonesome, Jick-less stop in Chicago to play the third annual Pitchfork Music Festival. If the past eight years are any indication, the glorious mess of aural independence that proved pop music to be as diverse as the people who listen to it is still alive and well in one of its greatest champions.

Stephen Malkmus plays this Sunday at the Pitchfork Music Festival | 6pm