14 November 2011 (gig)
03 December 2011
Stephen Malkmus is an acknowledged anti-guitar demi-god. He was a major influence on Graham Coxon in the '90s (offering an alternative to players such as Noel Gallagher, who had "far too much f***ing respect for the instrument"). His style is playful and oddly-melodic with bursts of power that mix up the dynamics of many of his songs. His super-elastic band, The Jicks, allow him to switch from jaunty rhythm-playing to epic, stratospheric guitar solos and back, changing tempo mid-song, perfectly in-synch.
The set on the night drew heavily from Mirror Traffic - widely considered his best album since his solo debut - and most songs were beefed-up with guitars. Is this Malkmus proving his strength before the hyped new Pavement album? He was the voice of the band as well as lead guitarist, and his solo tracks are full of the signature lyrics, mixing zingers with absurdity and the comically oblique ("get out of the way there's nuns on the loose!") It seems he benefits from the structure that songwriting with Pavement gave him, but sometimes the looseness really worked - his solos were untamed and awesome.
The opening rockers flew by, the crowd lapping up 'Tigers' particularly, and Malkmus goofed around, pointing his guitar skyward and knee-shaking for one song, robot-dancing with a shoe shuffle for another. One common Malkmus technique is to pastiche 'classic'-rock's motifs, splicing them with other styles. Some of the slower tracks veered too close to their reference points for me and I started to disconnect. One concert highlight, though, was the angular 'Open and Shut Cases', another the pumped-up version of 'No One Is (As I Are Be)', dedicated to recently-passed guitarist ("the greatest"), Bert Jansch.
As a sly joke on rock encores, Malkmus's guitar tech started retuning his Strat as soon as they finished (part one of) their set. Irony is a big part of Malkmus's work and sometimes it's hilarious, but for me, you've got to be excellent to get away with not seeming to try - and his finale, a smirking medley of classic-rock covers, seemed uninspired. However, when he's delivering, he's hard to beat: Sardonic wit mixed with a casually half-demented style - an alternative guitar hero still in full strength.