By: Cal Roach
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks :: 07.04.09 :: Milwaukee, WI
It seemed like a coup that Burnhearts Tavern got Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks to play a little free street festival in a southern Milwaukee neighborhood, but Malkmus does have some history with the city. It was here, in 2003, that he busted out a night's worth of Pavement tunes for the first time since that band's demise. No such luck at this Pabst-sponsored show, but there were certainly some surprises in store.
As expected, the band rolled out quite a few tunes from last year's Real Emotional Trash, including opener "Dragonfly Pie," which dissolved into grungy ambiance, and then "Gardenia," which suffered a bit from bass-heavy, muddy sound (all banter was completely lost on the small crowd) but the background vocals were spot-on. "Hopscotch Willie" showcased Malkmus' ever-increasing focus on guitar improv. The Jicks have become a tighter ensemble with each show, it seems, but there is no question who the leader is.
You never know which Malkmus you'll get on any given night; sometimes he's inspired, sometimes nothing is working. Explorations seemed a little stunted in the early going, but some of that may have been attributable to a drunken, overly chatty crowd (what do you expect after six hours' worth of two-dollar PBRs?). By the fifth song or so ("Jenny And The Ess-Dog"), Malkmus was clearly beginning to access the latent guitar heroics within. After a few more, he was on fire, as if spitting in the face of the apathy he helped to proliferate in the '90s, now lounging bemusedly in front of him - overly trousered, fashionably aloof, but probably drunker than he'd have envisioned. He was clearly determined to either win over a legion of post-hipsters or at least reward the fanatical few.
Tonight's forays ranged between fierce peaks and petering out, but Malkmus was melodic and relatively precise throughout. I'd seen the band last winter and they'd never developed any sort of groove at that show, but tonight everyone was locked in. The only thing that was somewhat disappointing was that drummer Janet Weiss lagged a bit. She is the rare drummer that can completely take over a song, but tonight she was just letting them happen. It was just a case of high expectations, though; if I hadn't seen her completely dominate before, I'd have had nothing to complain about.
Aside from the stalled momentum brought on by "Cold Son" late in the set it was a high-octane show, replete with several brand new tunes that I might have been able to name if I could've made out any of the stage banter. Highlights included "(Do Not Feed The) Oyster," a Pavement-on-cough-medicine slow-burner, and "Elmo Delmo," featuring a dark yet childlike, gooey interlude that birthed a concise, dramatic final freak-out. The evening culminated with an epic "No More Shoes," with Weiss finally coming alive and galloping with Malkmus as he channeled Robbie Krieger, then John Fogerty as the jam intensified, and then Zoot Horn Rollo as it disseminated, a dynamic voyage with the kind of intuitive playing most bands never dream of pulling off.
This showstopper seemed a logical end to the set, but instead, after Malkmus taught bassist Joanna Bolme how to play it, The Jicks got funky with "Emotional Rescue," more competent and fun than it had any business being, a weird, carnivalesque thrill. The encore continued the festival-minded randomness with a hungry cover of The Kinks' "All Day And All Of The Night" (a little easier to teach) and a final nod to their most obvious influence with The Velvet Underground's "What Goes On," stretching it out as if they didn't want to leave the stage, trailing off in the end. These covers were more interesting than mind-blowing but The Jicks had satisfied every craving they have the capacity to fulfill, quite the bargain at zero dollars.
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks tour dates available here.
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