Juxtaposed against the blustery sounds and big egos of Hole and Cypress Hill on last year’s Lollapalooza tour, Pavement’s love for low-fidelity and introspection onstage seemed flat and small. What a horrible fate for a band heaped with critical kudos for their deviant energy and basement-noise ethic.
When this Stockton band’s first album, 1992’s “Slanted and Enchanted,” hit the alternative rock scene, it was with a bang. No mention of Pavement omitted their sonic homage to the Velvet Underground, but their material — jam-packed with irony, anomie and (in the spirit of R.E.M.) cryptic lyrics that somehow made sense — was downright revolutionary. Pavement spawned a multitude of fractured-noise-loving, off-key-vocal-warbling mutants; lesser offspring such as Weezer momentarily have overtaken the band by their sheer power to grab an arena. So the question remains: Can Pavement rock live?
The answer is yes — with an exclamation point. By the time Pavement had filled the stage with two drum sets, a Moog organ, amps, crates and boxes, the Troubadour seemed to have transformed into a music-warped teen’s rumpus room. The five band members hit the stage fully garbed in GI Joe camouflage and hunt gear, which was particularly incongruous on lead singer Stephen Malkmus’ wiry frame.
What followed was an intimate, enlightened, and energetic 90-minute set that carried all of the promise of the band’s first shining year.
Now there’s no doubt that Pavement’s getting back to what made the band great to begin with: love for feedback fuzz and jerky guitar lines, and hatred for predictability and calculated rock moves. Perhaps that’s why the band didn’t play “Cut Your Hair,” their most commercially viable tune yet, but opted to pave the way with “Slanted and Enchanted’s” pensive “Here” and “Loretta’s Scars,” and then wind into newer songs from a soon-to-be-released Matador disc.
Last year, the enigmatic “Wowee Zowee” freed the band from the shackles of mainstream appeal, and Pavement’s current mission appears to be reconnecting with a smaller contingent of like-minded souls. While Pavement’s formula was beginning to sound practically formulaic with each new band ripoff, this show proved that the group will continue to move forward in a way that remains close to their original, groundbreaking spirit and punkish integrity. On this night, Pavement sounded positively big and booming.