Pavement Return as Indie-Rock Heroes at Debut U.S. Reunion Gig

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“I’d say it’s nice to be back,” remarked Bob Nastanovich not long into Pavement’s show last night at the Fox Theater in Pomona, California. “But I’ve never fucking been here before!”

True enough, Bobby boy. The jocks pumping their fists to “Cut Your Hair,” the chick doing the Phish-fan noodle dance to “Stereo,” the countless balding dudes diluting their beers with tears during “Here” — this was definitely new territory for arguably the greatest indie-rock band of all time. Put it this way: Yesterday a guy tweeted that he was working security at the Pavement show. Even if Twitter had existed when the group originally broke up in 1999, there’s no way that would’ve have happened; back then, bouncers were taught to ignore bands like this.

Yet if the scent of nostalgia hung undeniably heavy over Pavement’s first North American reunion show — a relatively intimate warm-up gig before their big Sunday-night slot at Coachella — frontman Stephen Malkmus and his mates seemed stoked to soak it up. Leading the group through a two-hour set packed with college-radio hits (remember those?), the singer pulled faces, flipped his hair and hopped on one leg like a bunny on his birthday. Nastanovich, meanwhile, appeared to have spent his decade away from music perfecting a court-jester routine that was pretty much perfect to begin with.

Pavement spent some considerable time earlier this year rehearsing in Malkmus’s homebase of Portland, but at the Fox — where the audience included Britt Daniel of Spoon and Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox — they still sounded sloppy as hell (in a good way). Drummer Steve West motored “Shady Lane” with Sunday-driver insouciance, while “Rattled by the Rush” had a swampy blues-rock vibe complete with Screaming Trees-style harmonica solo. It’s probably time, too, that we acknowledge the importance of Mark Ibold’s bass: Last night his playing provided a weird muscularity that helped illustrate the difference between Pavement and so many of the tired-ass indie bands they’ve inspired over the years; in “Spit on a Stranger,” especially, you couldn’t not hear how crucial a part he is of the band’s attack.

Evidently enjoying themselves — “Are you happy?” guitarist Scott Kannberg asked at one point, then added “We’re happy” — Pavement did two encores, mostly of stuff from Slanted and Enchanted, their landmark 1992 debut. “I was dressed for success,” Malkmus sang in “Here,” “But success, it never comes.” He resisted changing those words last night, but only because he didn’t have to.

Set list:

“Silence Kit”
“Ell Ess Two”
“Give It a Day”
“Frontwards”
“No Life Singed Her”
“Father to a Sister of Thought”
“Rattled by the Rush”
“Kennel District”
“In the Mouth a Desert”
“Shady Lane”
“Unfair”
“Spit on a Stranger”
“Grounded”
“Two States”
“Range Life”
“Perfume-V”
“Gold Soundz”
“Fight This Generation”
“Summer Babe”
“Cut Your Hair”
“The Hexx”
“Date w/ IKEA”
“Trigger Cut”
“Starlings of the Slipstream”
“Box Elder”
“Here”
“Stereo”
“Zurich Is Stained”
“Loretta’s Scars”
“Conduit for Sale!”

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