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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks @ The Pabst Theater

March 20, 2008

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Even in his 40s, Stephen Malkmus is still as skinny as a teenager and as malleable as a Gumby doll. The former Pavement frontman possesses no discernable backbone: When he leans forward during a particularly impassioned solo, his head hangs nearly eye level with his guitar.

Much of the weight that often results from settling down with a wife and a pair of kids never came to Malkmus; neither did the complacency that besets many musicians by middle age. Instead, Malkmus’ solo albums have pushed, often aggressively, against the Pavement template, and never more than on his latest disc, Real Emotional Trash, which for better or worse, mostly forgoes pop formalities in favor of lengthy, labyrinthine jams. Indie-rockers have long harbored a thinly veiled disdain for most music that smacks of classic rock—it’s the ocean that separates them from the jam-rock scene— so they watched in dismay as one of their founding fathers began sailing away toward the horizon. If Malkmus’ 2006 Bonnaroo performance was a sign that he had begun to stray, then Real Emotional Trash is his Dear John letter, a blunt kiss-off in the form of an homage to Rush and Kansas, with nary a consolatory nod to The Fall and The Feelies.

His performance Thursday night at the Pabst Theater was particularly disheartening for those abandoned Pavement fans, mostly because it featured nine of Trash’s 10 tracks. In moderation, Malkmus’ rich, bellowing guitar is its own reward, but his set begged for a few palate cleansers, perhaps a quick nugget or two from Malkmus’ charming solo debut. During the encore, Malkmus even mentioned that he’d considered playing “Troubbble,” a two-minute romp and surefire crowdpleaser from that debut, but he instead opted for what he dubiously called “a special treat”: the plodding Trash reject “Pennywhistle Thunder.”

“That one always kills,” Malkmus said as the song finished to tired applause. As usual, it was difficult to tell if he was being sarcastic.
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