Twentysomething smartasses are almost as unlikely as child stars to shift successfully into thriving adult careers, but Stephen Malkmus — the man who launched a thousand slacker fever dreams in Pavement — has navigated those waters with aplomb in his time as a solo artist.
At this quasi-homecoming gig, the longtime Gotham resident came across as both relaxed and ebullient, pulling back the curtain to allow a clear view of the hippie-era influences he often kept shaded in earlier days. Concentrating heavily on the recently released Matador album “Real Emotional Trash,” Malkmus and company stretched the set’s songs with gentle rhythmic interplay and the leader’s slippery soloing — which recalled a cross between Tom Verlaine and Quicksilver Messenger Service’s John Cipollina.
The open-ended nature of the night’s offerings was, for the most part, a boon — an extended “Church on White” grew increasingly hypnotic as its waltz-time melody wound around itself again and again — but occasionally, the material turned out to be overly leaden. That was the case on a ponderous “Dragonfly Pie,” which seemed to aim for vintage arena-rock heft but achieved little more than the volume-for-its-own-sake bombast of Soundgarden.
Windmilling riffs aside, Malkmus has largely discarded the trappings of irony and distance, although he still favors nonlinear thought processes in the lyrics of songs like “Vanessa From Queens” and the title track to “Real Emotional Trash.” These days, however, Malkmus’ bobbing and weaving seems more geared toward teasingly entertaining an aud than throwing it off his scent.