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Pavement Gives Chicago A Triumphant Farewell

By Steven Pate in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 14, 2010 7:00PM

For rock acts, the reunion tour has become a career path rather than a happy exception. Whether for love or money, it is now practically a matter of if, rather than when, someone decides to “put the band back together.” 2010 was the year the trend claimed Pavement, the anointed kings of 1990s indie rock, who passed through Millennium Park last night on a last leg of their long-overdue victory lap.

The slackers of Stockton are clearly enjoying every moment. Any reservations they had about the enterprise of reunion, and any turbulence we may have observed during their imperfect Pitchfork Music festival set in July, were forgotten on Monday night as the band joyously performed a set of their favorites to a receptive gathering of the faithful under a cloudless sky at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. It may have been that the pleasantly transparent sound mix and exquisite acoustics of the pavilion afforded the band and sound engineer Jeremy Lemos a level of comfort lacking in Union Park weeks ago. It may have been that they picked a better set list, drawing from every phase of their recorded career and hitting nearly all the high points fans could ask for (although still no “Summer Babe” ???). Or it may be that these icons of indie rock, now approaching 50, realize that these things (playing songs to appreciative audiences that have loved them arduously for years) don’t happen that often, and by this time next month they won’t be doing this any more. Whatever the reasons, the band was loose and joyous, and the crowd gratefully lapped it up.

Frontman Stephen Malkmus shredded, the seemingly guileless and affable Mark Ibold hopped around endearingly center stage and Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg lost himself in the groove. The impish Bob Nastanavich, always the id of the performing band, deftly alternated between banging on a few drums attached to Steve West's proper kit like a tumor, and dashing around the stage with his wireless mike, screaming like some alternative rock hype man. In short: everything was in its right place. From the opening bell of Silent Kid, and early nods to their first label, Chicago's own Drag City, Pavement was a grade sharper throughout the night than in July. "Cut Your Hair," "Gold Soundz" and "Stereo" may have gotten the strongest reaction from the crowd, but the band gave each era and cul-de-sac of its canon its due. Nor was their trademark ramshackleness absent. One minute found the ensemble flexing taut pop muscles in "Trigger Cut," and the next turning the end of "Fight This Generation" into a giant, noodly morass. If everything had gone according to book, it would not have been a Pavement concert.

The band's mood turned from wistful and playful to downright nostalgic as the evening wore on. “This one should have been huge," said Malkmus of Wowee Zowee's "Rattled by the Rush." "But it was the beginning of the end." They got in a couple of digs at Mayor Daley, name-checked their old stomping ground Lounge Ax and mocked the age of their own songs. As they reminisced about the many times they came through town over the years, it was not hard to catch the implication being that this might be the last. "You've always been very good to us," said Kannenberg. "I think we played more times at the University of Chicago than some of the students went to class," Malkmus quipped.

The songs charted an evolution from the sideways, oblique sneer of the youth ("I've got a lot of good things coming my way / And I'm afraid to say that you're not one of them," sang Malkmus during a stirring "Box Elder") to a working-through of the anxieties of growing older: “I want a Range Life / I could settle down.” By the time majestic renditions of "Shoot the Singer" and "Fin" closed out the first encore, it was apparent nobody wanted to leave, least of all the five musicians on stage. What had begun as a couple of music geeks trying to be clever, and had evolved into a career that was at times so at odds with its own ambition that it stopped being enjoyable for the participants, had finally, belatedly, become pure, unadulterated enjoyment for these five friends and the crowd who paid to experience it. "See you in 10 years," said Malkmus.

We hope so. If only because as spoiled as Chicago is for having two opportunities to see Pavement, we never got to hear their most iconic tune, "Summer Babe."