Russell Baillie

Russell Baillie is the Herald’s entertainment editor

Review: Pavement at Auckland Town Hall

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Stephen Malkmus from Pavement. Photo / Supplied
Stephen Malkmus from Pavement. Photo / Supplied

In the early 90s, Pavement represented American rock's alternative to the alternative.

While the world lurched to the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and the Smashing Pumpkins, the Californian-born five-piece quietly went about their noisy business. They substituted art for angst across half a dozen albums of loopy guitar pop and occasionally risked a genuine hit to break them out of cultdom.

But that's largely where they stayed until the band fell apart near the end of last century, having made numerous playing visits to these shores.

And here they were again, ten years on and playing a screwy, celebratory first show of a reunion world tour at a sold-out Auckland Town Hall, a venue they would have struggled to fill in their heyday.

But out front was an audience largely made up of nostalgic Gen-Xers who might be wondering why they've become such a target market of late with this show coming in between reunion visits to Auckland by Faith No More and the Pixies.

While guitarist and sometime singer Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg admitted to some first night nerves, the band delivered a 20-plus song set centred largely on their early albums with only a few false-start glitches - and Pavement were always a group where haphazard energy ruled over technical precision.

And one of true personality, largely care of frontman-guitarist Stephen Malkmus and his cryptic lyrics aligned to nifty pop hooks and raygun riffs.

Having continued post-Pavement fronting his own band the Jicks, Malkmus wasn't lacking for stage confidence, throwing all sorts of shapes while showing more guitar muscle than he might have had in the good old days. His voice packed up a little towards the end, though, blaming a cold.

After a slightly ambling start the set soon found its own momentum, saving the almost-hits of Cut your Hair and Stereo for the finale and encore Along the way Kannberg's own earthier songs offered a pleasant reprise from the band's trademark zaniness while percussionist/keyboardist/slide whistle player and backing singer, er, shouter Bob Nastanovich was a sideshow in himself.

It was a show of many magic moments, whether it was the best tennis-inspired indie rock song ever (Stop Breathing) or the tsunami guitar surge beneath Grounded, or the countrified Range Life with its lyrical skewering of some of those aforementioned "important" bands of the Lollapalooza era ("it's not a protest song," pleaded Malkmus). Altogether, that made for one happy reunion of band and fans and oddly enduring songs.

Likewise, in support reformed Dunedinites the 3Ds and their tunes proved they had made it through the 90s rock wormhole intact and energised, with the likes of Outer Space and Hellzapoppin reminding that there's still plenty of gunpowder and stray sparks in their musical fireworks.

- NZ Herald

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