Pavement / Roseland Ballroom / May 11, 1997

Historic Roseland Ballroom may be the most sterile sounding New York venue due to its monstrously high ceilings and under-whelming sound system. Happily, Pavement and their sound crew did enough solid preparation to overcome any venue limitations. Mixing in tunes from ‘97s Brighten The Corners alongside several fan faves, the critically raved Pavement proved to be at the top of their game on the way to glorious alt-rock heaven.

Dressed in collared shirts, the frontline of literary-bound singer-songwriter (and indie rock idol) Stephen Malkmus, guitarist-singer Scott ‘Spiral Stairs’ Kannburg, and bassist Mark Ibold provided sharp riffs, wry humor, and a relaxed atmosphere for the attentive crowd. Behind them,. Moog player-percussionist Bob Nastanovich’s electronic textures and drummer Steve West’s sturdy beat kept the rhythm strong. And the sparkling tinsel backdrop gave Pavement’s moody reflections and climactic stanzas an abstract aura.

In a roundabout way, Malkmus’ cranky, whining vocal tendencies recall the naïve plaintiveness of cracked folk-rock waif Joanthan Richman. But unlike Richman’s twerpy, defeatist anthems, Malkmus mirrors his anxieties with sarcasm and alluring provocations (not all of which are meant to be clearly understood). He screams excitedly of initially hearing his song on the “Stereo,” then casually lifts Richman’s famous “Roadrunner’ hook line (“I got the radio on” conveniently shifted into “got the radio active”) for the down ‘n dirty “Best Friends Arm.”

Heads in the crowd were bobbing to the intense “Conduit For Sale” (loosely dedicated at this hometown show to the Knicks’ John Starks), as Nastanovich stepped up from behind his kit and forcefully screeched the nervous refrain over a sizzling beat. The refreshing “Shady Lane” was a power pop blast that gave West a chance to sport a spooky skeleton mask from behind his drum kit. With breezy harmonies and cool summer night imagery, “Starlings Of The Slipstream” retained a pleasant acoustic atmosphere.

After a three-minute break, Pavement returned for a generous encore. It began with the delicate, cracked sentiments of “Stop Breathing” and concluded with the endearing “Grounded.” Despite a few slightly extended guitar excursions (which could have been sliced to allow for a few more vintage tracks) and unintentionally muted harmonica passages, Pavement’s courageously open-ended songs pleased the underground enthusiasts and smart pop fans on hand this Sunday evening.

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