(photo credit: Leah Nash)
Some artists are just a little too offkilter to garner mass acceptance.
Like Stephen Malkmus, the founder of 1990s American indie rock heroes Pavement.
Picking up where the Pixies, Sonic Youth and REM had left off at the end of the 1980s, Pavement became the flag bearers of the alternative nation, mixing endearing pop with occasionally cacophonous chaos, cryptic yet literate lyrics and a defiantly low-fi sound. That approach single-handedly ensured that their audience would be limited, but it didn’t stop the lanky, iconoclast guitarist and singer/songwriter Malkmus and his band mates from building a following of passionate devotees who considered Pavement to be the successors to the greatestband- in-the-world throne.
The rest of the world heard about Pavement too, due to their appearances at Lollapalooza, and they even scored an MTV hit with “Cut My Hair.” But for the most part, being a Pavement fan was like being a member of a secret club – with gems of albums like Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain and Slanted & Enchanted serving as the secret decoder rings.
Following Pavement’s implosion in 2000, Malkmus took stock, released a solo album, joined his friend David Berman’s low-fi folk rockers The Silver Jews, and in 2003 locked forces with The Jicks. Now together as long as Pavement was and sporting the same five-album output, The Jicks have developed into the perfect vehicle for Malkmus’s musical eccentricities.
Some non-Malkmus fans may know his work through his contributions to the 2007 Todd Haynes film I’m Not There, based on the life of Bob Dylan.
Malkmus contributed “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Can’t Leave Her Behind” and “Maggie’s Farm.”
Arriving next week for a show on August 22 at the Barby Club, Malkmus and The Jicks are riding high on the wave of their most recent album, Mirror Traffic, produced by Beck. The famed genre-busting rocker is the first producer that Malkmus has deemed to work with since Pavement, preferring to direct himself. According to one review, “Beck has drawn out a set of performances that ring with clarity and inventiveness, trading in The Jicks’ more recent wig-out moments for a sharply defined focus and a more colorful depth of field. “ “This record is relatively approachable,” Malkmus told an interviewer recently. “Beck and I were both burnt out on the heavy rocking style, and playing to the strengths of a melody seemed like a way to go.”
And The Jicks – Jake Morris, Mike Clark and Joanne Balme – are masters at pop melody and concise arrangements, as much as Pavement was all about the sprawl and unpredictability. On their current month-long European tour, the band has been wowing audiences with their tight live sound. The Soundblab site called their show earlier this month in Leeds, England, “an impeccable set from genuine indie-rock royalty” and gushed that “The Jicks make popperfection look and sound effortless.”
For Malkmus, being back on the road with The Jicks is a return to a comfort zone disrupted by a yearlong reunion in 2010 with Pavement, an unlikely regrouping due to the acrimonious nature of the band’s split a decade earlier. But Malkmus told Pitchfork that he was happy he undertook the project and was also pleased that it was over.
“Yeah, there was nothing that was done in an un-tasteful way, no hurt feelings or anything… We got in and out at a good time,” he said. “The people who wanted to see it could see it. Everyone was in a good mood the whole time. There were probably some cracks that were beginning to show near the end, but luckily we stopped at the right time.”
It was also the right time to get back together with The Jicks, who endured a year of inactivity during the Pavement reunion. And as evidence of their spunky performances this month, both Malkmus and The Jicks have resumed their roles with renewed vigor.
“For The Jicks, I think waiting was a drag. They were just patient. But I was clear, saying, ‘If this is going to happen, I should just do it now,’” said Malkmus.
That’s the kind of spontaneity that Malkmus’s legend is built on – and more than 20 years into his uncompromising career, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change.Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks perform on August 22 at the Barby Club in Tel Aviv.