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Not Interested in Seeing Pavement, Thank You

Filed under: The Squib Report   Tagged: , , , , , ,

Martin Schneider writes:

By now, everyone who cares knows that Pavement has reunited and is touring. They've got several dates at Central Park in September, tickets to which cost Lord knows how much, and they're playing some festivals, including Coachella and Pitchfork. So far, the word is positive: the band sounds good and they're motivated (always a problem with Pavement).

I belonged to the original cadre of Pavement geeks. I fell for them hard in 1993, when I first heard their first album Slanted and Enchanted, and I bought everything they released until they broke up. Pavement was my first serious musical obsession as an adult, and for many years they were the band that most defined my taste and outlook. I was really into them. Still am. They're a great band.

I saw them four times in the 1990s, and those shows were mostly transcendent experiences, the kind of shows that only happen when a true favorite is performing, the kind of shows you look forward to for weeks.

The question arises: should I see Pavement a decade after their original incarnation? I'm certainly tempted, but ... what exactly would I be getting out of it? I still love the tunes and the players remain likable and the general group exultation of the event would certainly be fun. A friend who runs a prominent mp3 blog was telling me recently that Pavement is much, much bigger now than they ever were when they were still putting out albums, and to experience that level of public approbation (finally) would be a fine thing.

But—on the other hand, I did experience them the first time around, and it's a little unclear what I, as an original Pavement obsessive, stand to get out of the deal. The tickets are pricey, and I don't exactly have to validate my fandom; that already happened long ago. I never saw the Pixies, but if I were to see them today, my incentive would be to see a legendary band I never got to see. I don't have to do that with Pavement.

You may find these musings neurotic or almost enjoyment-averse. I understand that reaction, and yet the basic conflict remains. I'm not averse to aesthetic or cultural pleasure in the least, as any of my friends will attest with alacrity. I'm just confused what I'd be getting if I pay to see Pavement play their back catalog in 2010.

Be that as it may. To this quandary, add a truly perplexing article by Jon Dolan in the latest issue of SPIN, which also happens to be the 25th anniversary issue. I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that this article makes the best possible case for staying away from these Pavement shows. It left such a bad taste in my mouth that I think it made my mind up for me.

Since Pavement is so doggedly ... deconstructionist, for want of a better word, Dolan adopts a strategy ("Pavement always made a certain realism a centerpiece of their appeal," after all) of addressing the monetary factor involved in Pavement's decision to reunite, to a degree that is a little bit nauseating. Quotation is my friend:

You become a rock star when you can get onstage without adding anything new to your artistic legacy and still make thousands of people lose their minds. It's adulation as ritual, expectations met as a matter of course.


Yet, despite singer-guitarist Stephen Malkmus' semi-pooched voice (he'd been fighting off a cold), Pavement were the same pretty-decent live band they were 15 years ago -- sorta distant, kinda ramshackle -- plowing through a catalog that feels as obliquely poignant as ever.


The economics of what Malkmus calls "these nostalgia things" has long been formalized, as every one from the Pixies to Polvo comes back to cash in on legends that have ballooned in the band's absence, as oldsters entreat youngsters to do their history homework. Provided a band can go through the paces without dredging up any old grudges or hurting themselves, the offers get pretty hard to refuse.

"If the band likes hearing people cheer, and getting a check, as is the case with us," says Malkmus, "then it usually ends up working out, even if they're just ham-and-egging out the same old chords."

After five years on the reunion circuit, the Pixies' Black Francis recently came out with the maxim for the moment: "Forget the fucking goddamn art. Now it's time to talk about the money." (Let's: A New York-based booking agent estimates that indie bands that were lucky to pocket $7,000 a night in the mid-'90s can now command mid-six figures for a single festival date and low-six figures for one show at a large theater.)

The 43-year-old Malkmus is acutely aware of what he calls the "dialectical materialism" of these events, but for him, grandstanding like Francis' seems redundant: "If you're 40, and you leave your family and fly to Australia to do shows, and you're doing it for the art, that seems kind of weird. If you're doing it for the art, stay home with your family."

Enough. It's good to be told that there are no illusions here. I'm not expected to pay for "art" or even a good musical experience, although Dolan does sprinkle in some compliments between the references to Malkmus's shot voice, their "pretty-decent" live chops, and their "plowing" through their old hits.

In the last paragraph Dolan writes, "There's a deeper realism at work here. ... With the global economy in the toilet, the ambivalence toward capitalism that Pavement exemplified seems like an outmoded luxury. In 2010, indie-rock fans should take some solace that there are still paychecks for nostalgia acts that only had theoretical hits."

Lucky me! I helped Pavement become the eccentric indie heroes in their original stint—I'm talking hard cash here—now it's my turn to be part of their grassroots 401(k) plan too! Gosh, it's good I can take some solace that Pavement can still calculatedly fleece their newer fans and provide an authentic veneer of credibility—yes, the contradiction inherent in that phrase is intentional—even if most bands have a hard time making ends meet.

Why I should be supporting Pavement, and not those hard-up bands.... that part isn't explained so clearly. I know I might come off as harsh and bitter; truly, I'm more annoyed or fatigued than bitter. But more to the point, I don't see why this reaction is wrong on the merits.

I'll always root for Pavement on some level, and I'm delighted that they have found a new audience that was probably in diapers the first time around. That's awesome, it's a validation of my twentysomething instincts, and I'm glad their albums have a fair shot at lasting a good deal longer than the albums of most of their contemporaries. They're great albums.

But the concerts? I'll leave those to others to enjoy.

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