Live: Stephen Malkmus, Happy at Webster Hall

by |
09/26/2011 2:42 PM |

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In-store record releases notwithstanding, the last time Stephen Malkmus was in New York was almost exactly a year ago, on Saturday the 24th, with that other band. That set ended with “Range Life,” with Malkmus not giving a fuck, both lyrically and emotionally; last night’s Webster Hall show began with “Baby C’Mon,” an upbeat little rocker where he screams out, “Baby c’mon, let me come.” As great as it was to see Pavement last year, and they were great enough for me to see them at four different venues in different two countries, you have to admit: Malkmus did look pretty bored at times. It was a clear money grab, and the only reason that didn’t bother me is because OMG THEY PLAYED “GOLD SOUNDZ” AND “SPIT ON A STRANGER” AND “FATHER TO A SISTER OF THOUGHT.”

Last night was the reverse. There was no “Cut Your Hair,” obviously, but Malkmus sounded inspired, like he was happy to be back in New York without the pressure of being the frontman of the greatest band of the 90s. He joked with the crowd, played his guitar with looser limbs than usual (it’s like he and it are both made of rubber), and followed the rest of his band, particularly bassist Joanna Bolme, as much as they were following his lead. He even got reflective, remembering that the last time he was at Webster Hall, he saw the Silver Jews.

Or maybe he said “played with,” which would make a lot more sense, but it really sounded like “saw.” From where we were standing in the crowd (front middle), there were a lot of sound problems. (He may have also given a shout-out to Clinton Hill.) Malkmus’ vocals were way down in the mix, his guitar up front. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however, because he’s a better guitar player than lyricist (blasphemy, I know), and it was interesting to hear his instrument do the talking, so to speak, especially on set closer “1% of One,” an extended jam that the band has never recorded and probably never will; it’s too spontaneous and features some of Malkmus’ best guitar work, to try to contain to a single take from Pig Lib that the band should have never recorded; it’s too spontaneous and features such strong guitar work that to try to contain to a single take just doesn’t work.

A good chunk of the songs played came from Mirror Traffic, including standouts “Stick Figures in Love,” “Tigers” and “Senator” — the first time I’ve ever seen the word “blowjob” punctuated by an audience with a fist pump for both syllables. This was also the same guy who requested “Grounded” at one point, so take what you will out of that.

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Photos by Nadia Chaudhury

Set list:

Baby C’mon

Spazz

Brain Gallop

Long Hard Book

Tigers

Pennywhistle Thunder

Forever 28

Independence St.

Polvo

Share the Red

Animal Midnight

Tune Grief

Gorgeous Georgie

Senator

Asking Price

Stick Figures

Surreal Teenager

Planetary Motion

No One Is (As I Are Be)

Love Is Like Oxygen

1% of One

2 Comment

  • Dude are you serious? Malkmus was completely disinterested and 1% of One is on Pig Lib.

  • 1% of one was on pig lib, they also didn’t play surreal teenagers, he decided to scrap that last minute and instead left the last song up to request (1% of One being what was chosen). But Mr. Pizzi, I disagree with you. I was front and center right in front of Steve at the foot of the stage. He was smiling a lot and looked like he was having a good time.