The crowd at Central Park last night, for the band's fourth of five shows here in the city this week, featured the standard mix of stylish, new-breed cool kids and meathead jocky-looking dudes. For once in their stupid lives, though, those people were overshadowed—this whole week, this whole unlikely run of shows, has been for the former record store clerks, the college radio DJs circa 1995, the devoted alphabetizers of CD collections, the guys who could never be bothered to figure out which cut of khakis work best for them. The guys who wear Pavement t-shirts to Pavement concerts. It's hard not to be happy for them. They've earned it.
They also behave like no one else you've ever been around at rock shows. Crowd participation—dancing, fist-pumping, hooting, hollering, singing along, clapping—was kept to a minimum, which I suppose isn't terribly surprising or, really, even all that disappointing. I hate when people scream in my ear. But what was really weird was that there was hardly any discernible difference in how they would react to each song. A genre-defining relative smash hit like "Cut Your Hair" was greeted with almost exactly the same level enthusiasm as "Frontwards," from Watery Domestic, the 4-song EP released in 1992. And so to them, it didn't seem to matter too much that last night's show was front-loaded, at least in terms of the songs the non-diehards were there to see. "Grounded" into "Gold Soundz" into "Silence Kit" into "Date With Ikea" into "Unfair" into "Spit on a Stranger" into "Rattled By the Rush" into "Stereo" is a hell of a way to start a show.
The band sounded good—sloppy at times, and impossibly tight at others, perfectly recreating the strange noises that have always given their studio recordings such life. To the surprise of exactly no one, Malkmus was at best only marginally concerned with singing the lyrics in the correct order, and even less concerned with adhering to the original melodies. He's remarkably comfortable in front of the mic, though, and a much better guitarist than people have ever given him credit for, so he makes that looseness work in a way that few others have been able to match.
Before launching into a fairly forgettable version of "Cut Your Hair," Malkmus said, "This song changed my life." Even staring at his back, as I was for most of the show, you could practically see him smirking. "When I wrote it, I was living in a fucking shitty one-bedroom in Greenpoint." And then he backtracked, continuing, "Actually, it didn't even have a bedroom. It was a studio. After I wrote the song, I was able to move into a shitty one bedroom." He went on about to joke about how much he loves the song, and how he loves the song even more when it appears in movies. Only then did he allow a laugh to sneak through. He apologized, and said he knew he shouldn't say things like that. It didn't matter, though. We weren't offended. We just wanted to know if they were gonna play "Box Elder." And they did. It was really awesome.
Photo by Nadia Chaudhury