A Pavement Fan After All These Years…thanks to Ogden!

Last night was my 4th time seeing Pavement live and I was not a Pavement fan. Most Pavement fans will hate me for that statement, but it’s true.  The first time I saw them was in Los Angeles for Lollapalozza ’95. Sonic Youth, Beck and even Hole were much more interesting than Pavement.  The second time was for the Tibetan Freedom Concert in Golden Gate Park and the Pavement performance was no match for Beastie Boys, Rage Against The Machine and even The Smashing Pumpkins.  Maybe I just wasn’t hip or cool enough to appreciate was I was seeing, but these l0-fi kids from Stockton just didn’t do it for me.

Years later I can look back and appreciate what Pavement did for indie rock in the 90’s.  They created the blueprint and watermark for being a truly important, truly independent band that thousands of bands have tried to follow.  Most have failed miserably.  Many bands I listen to today wouldn’t be around if it weren’t for Pavement and I do realize that.  Because of this, and this alone, I was excited when I heard Pavement were going to reunite after being away for over a decade.  It seemed many people were excited, which was evident when they sold out their Central Park shows a year in advance.  Pretty impressive for a band that never had much commercial success in the 90’s.

There was no way I was going to New York to see them, but I was stoked when they signed on as the headliners for the Pitchfork Music Festival.  I was planning on going to Pitchfork anyway and it would provide a good excuse to revisit Pavement and see what I had been missing back in California.

By the time Pavement took the stage on the 3rd day of that festival in Chicago, I was exhausted and they were following some electronic and hip-hop acts that had the crowd in a frenzy.  Again, Pavement did not live up to other acts and we left early.

Pavement @ Pitchfork Music Fest, Chicago, 2010

At this point I already had a ticket to see them at the 1st Bank Center in Broomfield, CO and I decided I was going to sell it.  I had no desire to see Pavement play another large venue.  I was not alone.  Ticket sales were not what the promoters thought and the show was moved to The Ogden.  I am guessing this is the smallest venue Pavement have been booked in since the reunion.  So I thought ‘ok, one more time’. I would give myself one more chance to appreciate this band.  Not just their influence, but their actual music.

Jenny and Johnny

Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice‘s new band, Jenny and Johnny, opened the show and I was looking forward to seeing them.  Their debut album is pretty good and I saw these two perform together in Sonoma a few years back and they have great chemistry.  Unfortunately, parking was impossible on Colfax due to the sold-out show and Crowded House playing next door at the Fillmore. I didn’t get in the venue until 8:30 and only caught the last 3 songs.  From what I did see, this is a band to watch.  Jenny Lewis brings that voice and sex appeal while Jonathan adds blues and grit to her brand of indie pop.

Pavement took the stage at 9:20.  The setup was simple and clean.  Just white Christmas lights strung from the ceiling.   Perfect aesthetics for a band know for their DIY lifestyle and attitude.  The music, however, was anything but simple.  They came out with a bang!  No Life Singed Her is one of those loud, screechy lo-fi songs that infects as it’s demolishing your senses.  A great way to open the night!  You could feel the energy resonate through the sold-out crowd and I was hooked from the start.

The first half of the show followed the path set by that first song.  A set heavy on the lo-fi material from their debut album, Slanted and EnchantedSummer Babe, In The Mouth A Desert and Trigger Cut were all noisy cuts that had our ears ringing.  I say ‘our’ because most of the crowd were around my age or older.  I’d actually say the average age was 38 or so.  I did expect a younger hipster crowd to be out, but it was nice to see the old school fans come out to remember their youth.  I heard one guy in blues jeans and a white t-shirt comment to his friend who was dressed in jeans that were anything but skinny ‘this is the soundtrack of my adolescence’.

They did mix in a few slower tracks as well, like Kennel District and Father To A Sister Of Thought from WoweeZowee , Shady Lane from Brighten the Corners and Silence Kit from Crooked Rain.  Their only commercial hit, Cut Your Hair,  had the crowd in their first sing-along of the night as well.

The flow of the first half was great…a perfect balance of material.  I was up front on the right-side of the stage (the opposite side of Stephen Malkmus, who hid over in the corner most of the show rather than be up front and center) through two of my favorites, Stereo and Gold Soundz, before I decided the heat was killing me and I needed another beer.  For over an hour the band had held my complete attention.  This was beyond impressive.  Not many bands can do this.

Stephen and crew were pretty talkative throughout the show as well; telling stories about drinking at Evil Knievel’s old hangout in Butte, Montana, the Rockies stealing home from those ‘missionaries, or fathers from San Diego’, ski season, how Fall sucks in the Rockies and the Christian vibe on Colfax ‘a lot of asking, not a lot of giving’.

Pavement is bigger than The Ogden.  They are too small for 1st Bank Center, but too big for The Ogden.  And I have to say that seeing a band that is too big for the venue is so much better than seeing a band that the venue is too big for.  In The Ogden Pavement were larger than life!  You can say it sucks for them that they went from a arena to a small theatre…but reading their faces, body language and energy last night, I’d venture to say they were loving it!

The second half was made up of most of the material from their (arguably) best album, Crooked Rain, Crooked RainGold Soundz was awesome.  Is is the best song of the 90’s?  I don’t think so.  But great just the same.  Unfair, Range Life and set closer Stop Breathin were all worth the price of admission.  I do have to say, Spit On A Stranger, with the lights and the stage and the crowd swaying back and forth, made me think of a high school prom.  But not in a bad way.  It was just funny to think that most of the people in the crowd were not long out of  high school when they used to listen to this song on repeat.

The second half did have some down time.  Quite a people moving around, going outside for smokes and even talking amongst themselves during Fight This Generation and Two States, but this was the exception during their 2 hour set.  A little over halfway though I started hearing people say ‘they’ve done all the good songs‘.  These people were proved wrong over and over again throughout the night.

The band left the stage for a few minutes before returning with a cover of Nirvana’s Lithium followed by Box Elder, Fin and ‘a terrible song to close with’, Rattled By The Rush.  So terrible, I guess, that they decided not to end there and went on to close the show the way they started it, with a song off Slanted & EnchantedOur Singer.

Perfect close to a near perfect performance from a band that haven’t been together since ’99.

I came home, put on Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and have to admit I am now a Pavement fan!  All it took was seeing them in a venue where I could appreciate them.  The only regret I have is discouraging a few friends from coming to this show.  I just didn’t believe it would be as good as it was. Fail on my part.

Pavement Setlist Ogden Theatre, Denver, CO, USA, Pavement Reuinion 2010