Monday, January 15, 2007

Languish Poets and Zippy Guitars

The Aughts. As in "aught to be better." As in "aught to have a president who read the Constitution before he shat on it." As in "leaves us hungering for 90s rock, and who thought we'd say that?"

Anybody at the Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks show at SoHo in Santa Barbara this past Saturday might. For not only is Malkmus haunted by his Pavement past, he's now got Janet Weiss as the Jick behind the drums and already integrated enough to add the airy vocals that keep MalkmusMusic deceptively la-la lovely. Of course, Weiss was the thundering anchor for Sleater-Kinney, so in some ways this group is super in a sour Cream, aught kind of way.

I've already taken a shot trying to sum up Malkmus, who tellingly went by the initials SM when Pavement began, in an entry on "Freeze the Saints," which he finally played as an encore the other night. He did it sitting on his amp, as if actually meeting the crowd's expectations wore him down. Not to be a self-quoting fool like Andrew Sarris or one of those folks people forgot aren't dead, but I said:

In “Freeze the Saints” Malkmus rolls “help me languish here” over into “help me language here,” which means bunches if you want it to, especially recalling Malkmus once insisted he was cribbing lyrics from John Ashbery. Then again, it was the far more straightforward poet William Stafford who used to say, “Of course it rhymes, all words rhyme because they sound more like each other than they sound like silence,” which just means trying to nail the positive ID on the meaning you mean ain’t going to be easy when all the suspects look suspiciously the same. Or maybe Malkmus wants to start a new school of Languish Poets.

That's mighty high-falutin', I know, but Malkmus is one of those figures that's hard to figure. Of late he's sporting a bad moustache that makes him look like he's a 70s porn star (as Amy put it), and you have to assume he likes looking like that, for smudging anything that smacks of simple is always at the heart of his project, which is why he's always interesting, even when the songs aren't quite always so too. I have to admit I've probably given his second solo album Pig Lib all of 3 spins for it failed to catch fast enough, and Pavement never did that (from "Summer Babe" right through "Spit on a Stranger" that even Nickel Creek couldn't kill). And now that I've seen him live twice--the first time was as part of a monumental All Tomorrow's Parties set in LA that also featured Television, so all the rest was kind of hard to judge after looking at the godhead--I can say I've liked him twice but trying to say what song was what or even getting beyond "is he playing so much new stuff?" is hard. So maybe we don't turn to him for The Song anymore (which we could still do on solo CD one, what with the indelible anti-anthem "Jenny and the Ess-Dog" and "Church on White," with the loopingly lovely outro guitar solo making the "But all you ever wanted was everything and everything" lines almost possible). Perhaps he offered an answer by playing neither on Saturday.

Instead he played lots of guitar, and somewhere you know he worries about that, but can't help himself, so every solo has that tension of whether it should be even played. That doesn't means he goes staccato, but that he knows the lyrical in art needs room for some yearning. The good news is with Janet Weiss now in the band there's always drive to spare. She's never busy, but she can make "Baby C'Mon" seem more funky than "funky," for instance--her directness blows his archness away. This could become a group to rival Pavement, eventually, if any of us escape the 00 world we live in now.

As for opening act Entrance (as in No Exit, not as in "we'll mesmerize you into liking us"), their blooz-rock can be summed up by the opening line of one song, which made me laugh more than any of the parodies from Spinal Tap: "Children of god, you're playing musical chairs." I'll sit that one out, thanks.

4 Comments:

Anonymous Mike said...

I was never a huge Pavement fan either. I own Slanted & Enchanted or Crooked Rain (forget which), and I play it maybe once a year or so. Nice background music, but I've never really seen the genius.

But Janet (not to mention Corin & Carrie) . . . NOW, we're talking. Mike likes Girls Who Rawk.

6:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Instead he played lots of guitar, and somewhere you know he worries about that, but can't help himself, so every solo has that tension of whether it should be even played. That doesn't means he goes staccato, but that he knows the lyrical in art needs room for some yearning."

Sounds like you liked it, kinda, in the way I kinda dislike pretentious graduate-studenty self-involvement-as-avante-garde art.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous michael said...

Thanks George, for your review. I was at the show and I was wondering if George or anybody there may know the SET LIST from it? I thought it was amazing and loved all the new songs (which seemed like 70% or the set.)

12:00 AM  
Blogger George said...

Sorry, Michael, I didn't get a set list.

11:51 AM  

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