Photo: Leah Nash
After touring the U.K and Europe last fall, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks returned stateside, kicking off their first show of 2012. Opening for Malkmus was the Portland-trio, Nurses. I had not heard any of their music before the show, but found their unique blend of indie and pop enjoyable for the most part. Although the crowd was relatively sparse during the band’s set, it didn’t seem to dim their spirited playing. It was kind of amusing to see the majority of the crowd avoiding the empty wood floor in front of the stage, and instead, clinging around the bar stools and tables. Nurses’ singer Aaron Chapman took it in stride, saying, “Hello everybody around the perimeter.” Just as their set was picking up steam, and the club’s lights finally changing colors (after 20 minutes of nothing but red lighting), one of their amps broke down, ending their set early. Even though they played less than 30 minutes, it was a good warm up for the main act.
When Malkmus and the Jicks appeared from the green room, they made their way to the steps of the stage and then stopped. Instead of the band, an older guy, who appeared to be in his late 60s, climbed up the steps and took the stage alone. Malkmus gestured to the board operator in the back to turn on the mics. After announcing who he was, the audience roared in applause. When the warm reception died down, the crowd erupted again as Stephen Malkmus Sr. introduced his son and the Jicks onto the stage. It was cool to see the father and son getting a kick out of one another, and it set the tone for a fun and laid-back evening with Malkmus and the Jicks.
I never experienced Malkmus’ first band, Pavement, in their heyday, and this was my first time seeing him play live. After their memorable introduction, Malkmus and the Jicks dove headfirst into their hour-and-a-half set, playing nearly every song off of their new album, Mirror Traffic. Seeing them live immediately reminded me of the Sonic Youth show at In the Venue in Oct. 2010. Not only did their playing style and demeanor resemble each other, but the beautiful Joanna Bolme swaying back and forth, and jamming away on her bass, also drew comparisons to Kim Gordon.
On new songs such as “Stick Figures In Love,” and “Brain Gallop,” it was great to hear them live, with the brilliant keyboard and rhythm guitar playing of Mike Clark blending effortlessly with Malkmus’ voice. However, it was truly incredible to watch Malkmus play the shit out of his guitars — hunched over, with his brown hair hanging over his face, his fingers flying up and down the fretboard, evoking incredible sounds out of the amp. At times, it seemed like he was having some issues with his effects pedals, crouching down repeatedly to make small tweaks to the dials.
The only major fuck-up of the night came when Malkmus abruptly stopped playing 15 seconds into the new song “Tigers” after noticing that his guitar was not tuned properly. After a quick tuning adjustment, the band started the song over, as if the mishap never happened. Even though drummer Jake Morris only recently joined the Jicks, after Janet Weiss left to go play for Wild Flag, it seemed like he had been playing with them since the band’s formation in 2000. His thunderous fills, and gentle accents were just as impressive as Malkmus’ guitar chops. The band was in a good mood all night long, and joked around with themselves and the audience in between songs. Malkmus and Clark had a running gag of blaming the high altitude of Salt Lake for any mistakes during their set, saying things like, “I’m starting to feel the altitude. It’s getting to me.”
Approaching 12:30 a.m., Malkmus and the Jicks capped off their set with the new, unreleased song “Surreal Teenagers.” The tune turned into an avant-garde style finale, with Malkmus’ Fender guitar laying on the stage, with him holding on to it by just the strings, trying to get every little bit last of sound out of it he could. Likewise, Morris had taken off his crash cymbal, and was now holding it in his hand. As Bolme headed off the stage, she knocked the cymbal out of Morris’ hand, causing a loud crash, and bringing a definitive end to a memorable show.