Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks Crescent Ballroom Friday, February 24
Okay, Phoenix. First, the good news: According to no less an authority than Stephen Malkmus, godfather of slacker cool, genuinely tall and good-looking former frontman of Pavement and current leader of The Jicks, Portland now considers Phoenix a rival city. "We've been driving through [Phoenix]," Malkmus said, looking lanky and shaggy with a Fender Stratocaster slung at his waist. "It's like the Phoenix renaissance. Phoenix is rising from the ashes . . . the city is officially livable."
Now, the bad: According to the same indie-rock hero, Phoenix Sun Steve Nash is a big fan of Foster the People. Or something. "Steve Nash is saving his energy for Foster the People," Malkmus joked. There was plenty of that -- playful banter among bassist Joanna Bolme, guitarist/keyboardist Mike Clark, and drummer Jake Morris.
There were plenty of deadpan jokes over the course of the band's hour set, but not as much as there was jamming.
Bolme warned us, and, yeah, the band does indeed still jam. How much you liked it depended on tolerance for long, loose guitar solos. Malkmus' most recent, the Beck-produced Mirror Traffic doesn't stray into ponderous, progressive rock territory as much as the last (Real Emotional Trash), but the band isn't afraid of stretching out in a concert setting.
And it works. I could have stood to hear hear a little more volume from Malkmus' guitar on the solo section of "Stick Figures in Love," but as the set progressed, things got louder and fuller (or I got used to the volume and my brain adjusted, I don't know).
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The set stuck mostly to the recent albums, but the band had some fun with things, too, performing Sweet's 1978 pop/prog hit "Love Is Like Oxygen." The riff threw me at first, wondering if it was Foreigner's "Double Vision," but once the staccato piano lead hit, I knew what I was hearing, and it was pretty awesome. The crowd shouted back the lyrics, and while there was an element of pure fun to the cover, it reveals a sensibility at work in Malkmus' songwriting, a kind of multi-suite, ambitious, theatrical pop song thing (though the band didn't do the long, 12-inch version of the tune).
"We want to thank all the people who drove down from Prescott: Micah, Orion, Rain, Opal, Sunshine, Sweet Smoke," Malkmus joked, cracking a grin.
Finishing out their proper set with the expansive "Real Emotional Trash," Malkmus and the Jicks got far out, assuring that any wandering flower children would have plenty to twirly-dance to. Morris held the jams together, guiding the four-piece through the winds and turns.
I saw Malkmus perform with a reunited Pavement at Coachella, and while its one of my favorite show memories, it's clear how much he prefers playing with the Jicks -- his heart is just in songs like "Baby C'mon, which the band performed for their encore before closing out with a killer cover of "Benny and the Jets" (dig that funky electric piano sound) and Jane's Addiction's "Mountain Song."
It was kind of weird, but also kind of awesome. And in a world were Phoenix is nipping at Portland's heels in the "cool war," well, who knows what else is possible?
Watch: Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks
Setlist (somewhat incomplete):
"Brain Gallop" "Senator" "Stick Figures in Love" "Asking Price" "Long Hard Book" "Tigers" "Love Is Like Oxygen" (Sweet Cover) "Discretion Grove" "Spazz" "Church on White" Led Zeppelin intro into "Real Emotional Trash"
"Forever 28" "Baby C'mon" "Benny and the Jets" (Elton John cover) "The Mountain Song" (Jane's Addiction cover)
Last Night: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at Crescent Ballroom
Better Than: Jamming Grateful Dead bootlegs at home.
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Do you think Jane's Addiction feels awesome? You know, getting the nod from an Alternative Nation statesman like Malkmus?
The Whole "Jam" Thing: Yes, it does attract some awkward dancers.
Personal Bias: Big Pavement/Malkmus fan, also, totally into winding, proggy guitar and keyboard solos. Sincerely. (Also -- HUGE Elton fan, and that cover ruled.)