Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, gig review: 'sloppy and unfulfilling'

Forum, London

Ben Walsh
Friday 17 January 2014 12:36
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They don't play 2011's “Senator”. Really? Why? What's the reasoning? It's one of their punchiest songs, and it possesses the deliciously scabrous lyric “I know what the senator wants/ What the senator wants is a blow job“. But then, in the main, this experience is 75-minutes' worth of mild disappointment. I would have shaved half an eyebrow off to hear Pavement's ”Shady Lane“ or ”Cut Your Hair“. However, the languid Stephen Malkmus doesn't indulge us with material from his former, far better lo-fi, slacker band.

The gangly, cerebral frontman is, by all accounts, in a perkier place than his Pavement days (he infamously disbanded the seminal outfit at an after-show party in Brixton) and looks content orchestrating his Jicks, which consist of Joanna Bolme on bass, Jake Morris on drums and Mike Clarke on keyboards. They've been playing together since 2000 - far longer than Pavement lasted - and now have six albums under their belt (Pavement had five), but they still sound like an eternal American college band. A vital ingredient is missing. Pavement, on the other hand, were more than the sum of their parts and it was thrilling to witness them reunite in 2010.

Malkmus, who bears a passing resemblance to John Squire with his floppy fringe, is still a nimble and acerbic lyricist. ”Come ye all down to the punk rock tomb/ Come slam dancing with some ancient dudes,“ the 47-year-old archly maintains on ”Rumble at the Rainbo. “I can see/ The mystery/ Of you and me/ Will never quite add up/ No one is/ Your perfect fit,” he laments on the arsenic-laced “Forever 28”, from 2011's polished Mirror Traffic (produced by Beck).

The Californian's lyrics remain consistently inventive and droll but they also stray into wilful absurdity: “I got no more lotion/ Chew the oddity”, he maintains on “Planetary Motion” from his new record, Wig Out at Jagbags. Malkmus's voice has never been a thing of beauty but it feels particularly drowned out tonight among the unhelpful noodling and unfortunate nods toward prog-rock. Thankfully, his guitar playing is extremely accomplished, particularly on the plodding new number “J Smoov” and the witty “Cinnamon and Lesbians” (“Come downtown 'cause we got a cure for your head lice/ We will it for free/ Love it or leave”).

But whereas Pavement felt sloppily brilliant, this just feels sloppy, unfulfilling, perfunctory. The sound of their compelling new album doesn't seem to translate or compel tonight and the band's mutterings between songs is largely inaudible. It's the last night of their UK tour, so perhaps they're fatigued.

The two high points are the enchanting opener “Lariat”, from the new record, and the anthemic, effervescent “Jo Jo's Jacket” from Malkmus's debut solo album. But, ultimately, Malkmus and the Jick's performance feels somewhat pedestrian, it stagnates. It doesn't ebb, it doesn't flow. It never ignites. And then it's over far too soon. It's probably time to unite Pavement again.

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