Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
Live @ Bristol SWX
October 21, 2018
Review & Photography: Steve Bateman

Many music critics and historians believe that some great artists can define their own genre, and arguably, one such example of this are Pavement. A cool, cult band who formed in Stockton, California in 1989 and whose revered / influential music, married melody to a fuzz box. Often categorised as 'lo-fi indie', Pavement spawned numerous imitators and were hailed as "spearheading the underground indie movement of The '90s," eventually disbanding in 1999 due to acrimony. After putting their differences aside, they briefly reunited in 2010 for a successful world tour, which also coincided with the release of a career-spanning retrospective compilation, Quarantine The Past: The Best Of Pavement.

Away from Pavement though, lead singer and guitarist Stephen Malkmus, is a musical mainstay and has never once stopped writing and recording. With his output alongside The Jicks (his next most celebrated musical venture), not too far removed from the sound of his former group. And similarly, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks' 'real and homemade' songs have also received much acclaim - a thinking fan's band if you will.

On Malkmus being perceptive and attuned to what's going on around him, Pitchfork recently reflected: "Though his lyrics have always been sceptical and a little cutting, often commenting on the absurdity and irony of life and fame, he seems to be taking a particularly sharp surgical knife to culture on parts of the new album. One track even finds him commenting pretty directly on the myopic lifestyle politics of gentrified cities like Portland, where he lives with his visual artist wife and two daughters."

Notably, Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks are celebrating their 18th year together (an extremely admirable achievement for a band nowadays), and are in the midst of promoting their seventh long player, Sparkle Hard, by gigging all around the globe - with Bristol's SWX providing the setting for one of the group's UK dates. With impressive six-string skills and a laissez-faire vocal delivery, Malkmus is also renowned for his unassuming demeanour.

And yet, the casually attired 'slacker prince' nevertheless has a towering presence onstage - with faithful fans in attendance, more than ready to hear what The Jicks and their ringleader have to offer. Many of whom, are most certainly longstanding Pavement aficionados as well! Opening with a transfixing run of Tigers, Bike Lane and Future Suite, the set list is then a winding journey made-up almost exclusively from material that Malkmus has recorded with The Jicks over the years - a line-up which has a revolving door policy and is currently comprised of Mike Clark (guitar / keyboards), Joanna Bolme (bass) and Jake Morris (drums).

Sonically (although as an LP, Sparkle Hard goes off on different excursions by utilising fresh ideas and approaches to making music), the majority of elemental tracks played here tonight, are tinged with Malkmus' signature cut 'n' paste indie rock, which also has snatches of American heartland country and folk. And, from time to time, the songs even expose a pop nous - albeit a slightly off-kilter take on pop. Accentuated by flourishes of multicoloured lighting that alternates to complement the ever-changing musical beats. Malkmus, who frequently moves around the stage and clenches his guitar as though it has a power over him (even occasionally playing it behind his head Jimi Hendrix style), has the rapt audience - a mixture of demographics - in the palm of his hand, who gleefully lap up his insouciant tunes and humouros banter.

It's also worth mentioning, that whereas some acolytes sing along to every word verbatim, others are visibly more keen on listening intently to the interesting and important storytelling in Malkmus' lyrics. The Firey Furnaces' Eleanor Friedberger - who was "caught hitchhiking in Wales" - even makes an unexpected guest appearance in Bristol, duetting on Refute. Following a rocking Shiggy and a soothing Difficulties, the gig seems to have swiftly reached a natural conclusion as Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks leave the stage. With prolonged chants for an encore, when Malkmus does reappear however, he jokes that he's "back for us and not for himself," which elicits much laughter from the sizeable crowd.

Along with an unfussy stage rig, the performance itself also proves how with classic songwriting, you don't always require all the bells and whistles either. In fact, sometimes, the simpler the better! As when dispensing tracks that never needed dressing up in the first place, these songs instead feel like they have been put through a no-frills jet wash especially for the live realm.

Thankfully, there's still enough time for extra tracks, starting with the mellifluous Freeze The Saints, before some choice covers plucked straight from the locker of legends, Pavement. Funnily, when addressing audience participation earlier, Malkmus specifically asked fans not to shout out Pavement requests, as these songs would come later. A man of his word, the Pavement covers - perhaps unsurprisingly - evoke the loudest cheers from spectators this evening, and as they're an additional treat, they are no doubt savoured even more! After a soaring Starlings Of The Slipstream, a stripped-back And Then (The Hexx), plus band intros from Malkmus, he and The Jicks hit another homerun with the set finisher, a booming Box Elder.

The venue is filled with joy, and afterwards, the crowd soak the quartet with applause. The group look genuinely touched! This was both a gig and a night to remember, which while showcasing just what an engaging band of musicians Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks are, also simultaneously validated how Malkmus' artistic identity, lyrics, music, melodies and hooks, will long continue to sparkle hard!

A very special thanks to Ollie & Sam @ Domino Record Co, for all of their time and help.

Bristol Set List

Bike Lane
Future Suite
No One (As I Are Be)
Middle America
Houston Hades
Solid Silk
Stick Figures In Love
Witch Mountain Bridge
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Freeze The Saints
Starlings Of The Slipstream
And Then (The Hexx)
Box Elder

"Hey, you gotta pay your dues before you pay the rent"