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Thursday, July 9, 2009

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks @ Red, White and Pabst Blue Ribbon

July 4, 2009

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For the same reason you'll never see a Pabst Blue Ribbon commercial with bikini volleyball babes, you won't find a PBR stage at Summerfest. Pabst knows its status as the counterculture beer of choice depends on delicate, almost subliminal marketing, so a Summerfest stage—The Pabst Blue Ribbon Rocking Retreat with MySpace, Mountain Dew and Right Guard?—would be too obvious. Instead, the brand embraces niche-specific events like this weekend's Red, White and Pabst Blue Ribbon event, a large indie-rock concert on a very small street: Potter Avenue, a narrow, pothole-ridden corridor tellingly located just out of easy eyeshot from the Bay View neighborhood's main thoroughfare, Kinnickinnic Avenue.

With a casual stage presence that nicely captures Pabst's "let's not look like we're trying too hard" ethos, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks made fitting headliners. Though Malkmus can sometimes be low-key to fault, playing major music festivals with all the enthusiasm and preparation of a man whose just rolled out of bed, Saturday he found the right balance between his charming aloofness and basic showmanship, with a set that tempered the sometimes stifling guitar heroics of his latest album, Real Emotional Trash, with hookier, more doe-eyed tunes. It shouldn't be too surprising that he didn't play any Pavement songs—these days, Malkmus is too busy not playing his own songs, preferring new and unreleased songs over his early solo work, though he did find time for two catchy brain twisters from 2003's Pig Lib, the most Pavement-esque of his four solo albums, and for his 2001 single "Jenny and the Ess-Dog," one of the most traditional pop songs he's ever penned.

"It's Malkey's choice," bassist Joanna Bolme said when the band exhausted its scripted setlist, leaving Malkmus to pick the final songs. He opted for party-starters, inciting the tightly packed crowd to dance with a perfectly imperfect cover of The Rolling Stone's disco jam "Emotional Rescue" that was so unrehearsed Malkmus had to teach Bolme the bassline on the spot. The Jicks tore through the simple riffs of The Kinks' festival-friendly "All Day and All of the Night" with more confidence, firing up the crowd before cooling them down with a show-closing cover of Velvet Underground's "What Goes On." Malkmus also covered that song with Pavement, but for all the effort, this version didn't quite connect, with the band struggling to keep its groove and Malkmus' guitar solos falling unusually flat. He was characteristically unfazed, though, offering a happy, marginally apologetic shrug before he strolled off stage.

 

Photo credit: CJ Foeckler