I don’t feel like I’ve seen Stephen Malkmus play often, but counting through the times (Pavement at Reading 1992 and their ATP in 2010, with The Jicks at Reading 2001 and three times in Brighton) this is my 6th time seeing him play live.
I’ve also never seen him play a bad show. The reunited Pavement shows may have been done more out of duty than love, but the songs were great so I’ll take it. Given how much I enjoy his work it is odd that I only really keep half an ear on his solo recordings. I enjoy them a lot when I make the effort but I don’t rush to listen to them.
Here on the Concorde 2 stage in Brighton he plays a set that draws heavily from his recent albums and it sounds great from start to finish. Tunes like ‘Middle America’, from Sparkle Hard, may lean towards his more laconic side, but they are so well constructed that I’m happy to sit back a bit with them.
He throws some more upbeat tunes into the set, personal favourites ‘Stick Figures In Love’ and ‘Jo Jo’s Jacket’ both get an airing and they really highlight what a great band he has backing him.
One thing that really strikes you watching Stephen Malkmus live is what a great guitar player he is, and what a confident stage presence. His days in Pavement may have left him with the reputation of being a slacker with scrappy musicianship, but this is far from the truth. As he throws his guitar behind his head, never missing a note, you can see how skilful he is.
He’s witty too. St one point a scuffle breaks out in the crowd, some people a little inebriated causing problems. The band reprimand them, Malkmus standing statue like displaying two peace signs. The scuffle ends and the crowd calms. He leaps into a boxer’s pose, hands clenched. “Save your fists for the class war!” he proclaims.
He has also softened in his stance to nostalgia and his old band, he is clearly at ease with his musical legacy and what the crowd wants to hear. When the band return for the inevitable encore he launches into a raucous version of ‘Stereo’, the crowd (inevitably) goes wild. Last of all he appears to deviate from the planned final song, responding to requests from the crowd, and plays early EP track ‘Box Elder’.
His European tour is almost over, you’d need to head to Paris on Saturday to catch him before he returns to the US, but I’d recommend catching him next time you can. in the meantime, give Sparkle Hard a listen.
By Dorian Rogers