Last night, I went to the Brixton Academy (or the O2 Academy Brixton as it’s now apparently called) to see the last show of Pavement’s four-night residency. It was a fitting venue, being the place the seminal 90s American indie band played their final gig before splitting in 1999.
Frontman Stephen Malkmus seemed to look as young as ever. As he played the guitar behind his back or upside-down, or rolled around on the floor, the 44 year old seemed to be somehow frozen forever in his twenties. Percussionist Bob Nastanovich looked his age but certainly didn’t act it. The band’s talisman, a kind of hybrid of Bez from the Happy Mondays and Keith from the Prodigy, gleefully played with his array of instruments and a mini drum kit, told stories, interacted with the audience and, of course, let loose his trademark scream.
They’ve played a different set list each night, generally the same songs but in a different order, but last nights’ felt perfect. Opening with the brilliant Grounded, the long and varied set contained enough of the more obscure tracks to please the hardcore fans while also including all of the most popular songs such as Cut Your Hair, Shady Lane and Here. The only song I felt was missing was Starlings of the Slipstream, but overall I think it was a really well-chosen set list.
At times they were quite shambolic, but always endearingly so. Several songs had false starts, there were more than a few technical mishaps and Nastanovich completely forgot the lyrics to a section he was supposed to sing. Malkmus joked that the previous night, he did it so well that it made his ears bleed. The sound system at times was atypically poor for the venue, but not enough to spoil the enjoyment of an excellent performance that seemed to improve as the show went on.
Support came from Toronto band Broken Social Scene. Clearly influenced by Pavement and with a similar sound, they were fantastic and definitely a band I’ll have to have a further look at.
At times, the atmosphere felt a little unlike anything I’ve experienced at a gig before. For long periods, it often felt that the crowd was quite simply in awe, blissfully amazed that they were in the presence of a band that, a decade ago, it seemed would probably never play together again. But all that changed during the encore, when Date w/ IKEA suddenly perked everyone up and the first few chords of the anthemic Stereo really brought the crowd to life, helped by the emergence of some enormous, colourful balloons. This was followed by a personal favourite of mine, Fight This Generation, with its extended, meandering closing instrumental which sounded incredible.
I noticed that many people up in the seats were starting to stream out of the venue while those of us standing in front of the stage realised that the house lights not coming up meant there’d be a second encore. And sure enough, they returned to the stage for rousing final song Range Life, complete with the famous tongue-in-cheek lyrics about the Smashing Pumpkins which caused a feud between Stephen Malkmus and Billy Corgan for many years. It sounded amazing and was a brilliant end to an incredible night.