Formed in the late '80s in Northern Cali, the two-man Pavement band ripped off the Fall and Swell Maps, drenched it with glorious treble static and released the hissy-fit 7-inch "Slay Tracks"; they added a drunken drummer and quickly followed the single with the equally revelatory "Demolition Plot J-7," the 10-inch EP Perfect Sound Forever and the perfect bliss of the "Summer Babe" single. It was all heaven for the average white-boy indie rocker; these guys were talking to him, and it was hard not to have a bit of a (platonic -- really) crush on singer/guitarist Stephen Malkmus.
Ahh, the early '90s. Ahh, Slanted & Enchanted, one of the best rock records of the decade, one that a legion of know-it-alls greeted with an enthusiasm and anticipation akin to that of flute-rockers' excitement for Thick as a Brick or of electric-violin-heads' glorification of ELO's Out of the Blue.
It set in stone the basic blueprint of their sound: double off-kilter guitar tones that recalled both the sonic curiosity of Sonic Youth and the meandering melodies of Television, all complemented by Malkmus' flat-as-Celine-Dion's-butt voice. There were beautiful, weirdo ballads and rough-and-tumble guitar frenzies, and Malkmus sang with an emotion that, although unpracticed, was totally engaging.
Pavement, by now a quintet, were supposed to be huge, but although their 1994 borderline-novelty hit "Cut Your Hair" was damn catchy, it was also a sort of template for their future output: With a shit-eating grin and a self-referential air about it, the song bantered about, teasing rock stars while they themselves were becoming the same. They wanted it both ways, and that's usually a recipe for big-deal disaster.
And, actually, perhaps the most surprising aspect of Pavement's "career" is the fact that they've never experienced big-deal disaster, maybe because they've kinda quit taking any chances that could potentially result in one. They just chug along, releasing semi-engaging records; unlike most bands who lose inhibitions as they continue to create music, Pavement's gotten more self-conscious as their output grows, which is kind of annoying at times. The most ominous sign, though, is that the publicity surrounding their two most recent records -- 1997's Brighten the Corners and the new Terror Twilight (Matador) -- has focused as much on who produced the records as on what the band was up to. When you start highlighting producers, the excitement inside the band seems to be on the wane. Maybe they should go drum & bass or hire a Latin singer.
Opening the show will be Archer Prewitt, ex of the perennial St. Louis favorites the Coctails, the Chicago band whose gorgeous, visionary jazz rock foreshadowed the entire Windy City jazz-rock movement based around Tortoise. The aged among you may even remember his first band, the Bangtails. Prewitt's second solo album, White Sky, features members of Poi Dog Pondering and the Coctails, along with Prewitt's raspy voice and beautiful arrangements. Get there early, by all means.