Armed with unfamiliar acoustic guitars, a wobbly little PA, and cardboard box percussion, there was no reason to expect the Jicks to be whip-sharp in the middle of a record store. Even at a proper gig, Steve Malkmus is pretty business casual. So, crowding around Academy yesterday evening, filing down the hip-hop section, was mainly about being in a familiar space with an icon, in earshot for the wisecracks. They came thick and plentiful, on topics ranging from obscure hallucinatory roots of the American south, his cryptic disapproval of St. Vincent, and the heartwarming persistence of the New York City shell game (that really would’ve bummed Malkmus out if the hustlers had disappeared since he’d left). In between, there were five songs from the newly released Mirror Traffic. Each came with specifically tailored smart-aleckry. For the urgently jangling “Stick Figures in Love”: “Do we sound like Mumford & Sons? That’s what they sound like in my mind.” Preceding the tightest offering, “Tigers”: “It’s the first track on the new record. It’s really big in England. No it’s not. As usual.”
As a post-set cherry, the band threw in a verse and chorus of Elton John’s immortal “Benny and the Jets,” which was rather charming. (Hearing one of your Dad’s favorites honored, mocked by your teenage idol is a real sucker punch.) As great as those Pavement reunion shows were, you were never going to get the whole appeal of the band in that setting. Never going to hear them recreate a sideways, sarcastic version of a Beatles song as they would for radio sessions. With Jicks in tow or otherwise, an up-close glimpse of Malkmus the Half-Hearted 70s Pop Junkie made the trip down North 6th personally worthwhile.
Photos courtesy Nadia Chaudhury