Stephen Malkmus plays Pavement songs nowadays, something the defunct band’s frontman has recently begun sporadically dipping back into. If you’re lucky enough, you might catch a double run of songs like “In the Mouth a Desert” and “No Tan Lines,” from 1993’s Slanted and Enchanted and 1997’s Brighten the Corners respectively, packed into the encore like leathery raisins inside a chocolate shell. During his second night at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg this month, Malkmus played just one, “Shady Lane,” one of the more Weezer-like tunes from BTC, a love song where Malkmus celebrates going dutch on a dinner date, the development of a rash and casting the listener as “an extra in the movie adaptation of the sequel to your life.” He plays the song like it’s a tumor he’s trying to get rid of, and when it is complete, the impression is that Malkmus would prefer to live the rest of his life without playing any further songs by the band Pavement.
Malkmus, like most of us (I guess), prefers success on his own terms, so before that, he opened the encore with “Stick Figures in Love,” a single from his 2011 record Mirror Traffic, greeted at the time as the singer’s best record since, ahem, Pavement, released shortly after his first reunion tour with, ahem, Pavement. The song, like the rest of the record, was produced by Beck Hanson of likewise ‘90s fame who also made a name for himself out of writing songs about particular-sounding people who do particular-sounding things. Beck is less wary of the songs his fans want to hear: no show will go by without the cowbell clang of “Loser” even though he hasn’t made that kind of noise since ’96.
Like Beck, Malkmus looks like he’s mellowing out, man. His hair, now grey, feels somehow more slack, his grip on the mike dopier, yeah dude, I’m just here to sing a song, man. The music still kicks, “Stick Figures in Love” practically oozes cozy shoegaze glue, but Malkmus performs it breezier than the recorded version. Sometimes the music was of equal breeze, including a country duet from his latest record “Refute,” with Kim Gordon on the record and sung live by Jicks drummer [tk] and a half-joke cover of Joe Walsh’s biggest hit “Life’s Been Good.”
Profiles of Malkmus for the latest album/tour cycle emphasize this chillness—they visibly take place at restaurants and tennis courts, as if this was just some guy, shoulders raised, found on the roadside. He’s not even “very into sports” any more, just a chill dad who occasionally scores bad TV shows for his chum Will Arnett. Back in the day, David Sprague listed Malkmus in The Trouser Press Guide to the ‘90s Rock as “a covert bubblegum buff who hides his sweets under a blanket of feedback,” and isn’t it kind of funny that now he’s all laid-back gum, hiding the feedback-drenched stuff for the end?