Review: Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks at KOKO
Published on November 16th, 2011 | Jonny Abrams
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks can be a confusing and occasionally alienating experience for the Pavement fanatic. While the music of this still swooned over ’90s institution was always tangential and playful, it was also grounded in reassuringly steady time signatures, allowing those great songs to gather the sludge and grunge which, in retrospect, served to emphasise the warmth and humanity in Malkmus’ literate, gently dancing vocal lines.
Alongside fellow virtuoso musicians in the Jicks, Malkmus’ instrumental mind is allowed to meander in a way that finally matches his stream of consciousness lyricism; and, when aligned with that distinctive voice, one that Pavement nuts like yours truly are programmed to associate with being lulled into a comfort zone of sorts, it can seem jarring when Malkmus and his Jicks indulge their obvious enthusiasm for gobbling up tempos and time signatures like ordinary people eat peanuts.
While disassociating Malkmus’ voice with Pavement can be hard even after three albums with the Jicks and two billed-as-solo efforts, it is certainly worth trying. Filtered through innate expectation, albums like this year’s Mirror Traffic – itself tame in comparison to 2003’s Pig Lib and 2008’s Real Emotional Trash – can and will disappoint some. Taken entirely on its own merits, though, it is a thing of brain-nourishing, sun-kissed beauty. (Click here to read Rocksucker’s review of Mirror Traffic.)
Last night’s show at London’s KOKO venue was for the most part comprised of material from Mirror Traffic so it seems apt to focus on this record. In a live setting, its charms were not only reasserted but also meticulously evidenced by Malkmus and his faultless new bandmates. “Senator” was gleefully shorn of its daytime radio “snow job” shackles, while songs like “Stick Figures In Love” and “Brain Gallop” demonstrated Malkmus’ almost unrivalled knack of welding life-affirming melody and fuzzy guitar sweetness onto untraditional templates.
Although “Jenny and the Ess-Dong” (from Malkmus’ luxurious, eponymous 2001 solo debut) was given a welcome airing, there was little in the way of old favourites to savour. It’s hard to begrudge this though: now five albums into his post-Pavement career, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks is more than a mere nostalgia act so yer man is wholly entitled to reflect this going concern in his choice of setlist. Closing with a romp of a cover of “Wild Thing” felt at once like an opportunity to revisit past Jicks/solo glory wasted, and a joyously frivolous reminder that there’s more to come.
We like to call it math-pop. You might like to call it something else. Whatever it is, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks is just another great band to have soundtrack your life. And, judging by our hero’s relaxed and good-humoured stage demeanour and banter, he’s enjoying making his Malkmusic.