It’s no exaggeration to say that Pavement is one of the most influential bands in indie rock since the days of the Velvet Underground. The five-piece from Stockton, California rewrote the rules of how rock & roll could be presented, using a slacker veneer suffused in irony to disguise superior songcraft and musicianship, scoring underground hits with “Cut Your Hair,” “Range Life” and “Harness Your Hopes,” among others. The band’s influence even went so far as to have their late-period tune “Spit On a Stranger” covered by Nickel Creek during their 2002 ACL taping. So we were pleased to have the original band on our stage, as the band continues its recent reunion tour marking the 30th Anniversary of their seminal debut Slanted & Enchanted with their first-ever ACL taping.
Coming onstage to wild applause, the quintet – singer/guitarist Stephen Malkmus, guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, bassist Mark Ibold (last seen on our stage with Sonic Youth in Season 36) and drummers Steve West and Bob Nastanovich, plus guest keyboardist Rebecca Cole – opened with “Grounded,” a languorous rocker from the band’s third album Wowee Zowee. “Summer Babe,” a near-perfect example of Pavement’s patented tight-but-loose approach to guitar rock, followed, revealing what caught the ears of rock cognoscenti with the release of Slanted & Enchanted, their 1992 debut album from which the tune hails. The band kept the engine running even hotter with “Stereo,” a blazer from Brighten the Corners that revels in discordance as much as tunefulness and earned huge cheers. Malkmus turned up the jangle with the intro to “Black Out,” his laconic singing offsetting the song’s inherent prettiness, before the crunch returned with the rock anthem “Embassy Row,” during which Nastanovich wandered the stage, blurting into his microphone. The brief “Zurich is Stained” was followed by the power popping “Trigger Cut,” one of those songs you don’t realize you know until you find yourself singing along.
Nastanovich then took the mic for the ranting, raving “Two States,” one of the group’s not-too-subtle nods to British postpunks the Fall, one of Pavement’s chief inspirations. After that short sharp shock, Malkmus brought the band back to (relative) sanity with the dreamy, psychedelic “Type Slowly,” which let the bandleader take an extended guitar solo. Fan favorite and streaming champ “Harness Your Hopes” arrived next, its laid back pop melody inspiring loud noise from the crowd. The hits kept coming with the equally catchy “Spit On a Stranger,” another late period Pavement perennial. “Unfair” once again featured the stage-prowling Nastanovich, providing more unhinged shouting to contrast with Malkmus’ languid croon. Pavement then went into the less frenetic “We Dance,” before giving Kannberg the spotlight for the rock ‘n’ rolling “Painted Soldiers,” the band’s contribution to the Kids in the Hall’s film Brain Candy that elicited some surprised cheers. That led into “Fin,” another dynamic ballad that lulls us into a false sense of calm before the guitars take over.
That served as a palette cleanser, however, for the final round. The band launched into its penultimate song, and one of its biggest faves, with “Range Life,” a sort of reworking of pastoral country rock that took shots at more famous nineties rocker of their era. There was only one way to close the show, as became obvious with the familiar “whoo-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo” that begins “Cut Your Hair,” the band’s Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain favorite that garnered fevered applause from the audience. This wasn’t so much a nostalgia show as it was proof that great songs hold up over time, and we can’t wait for you to see it when it airs early next year as part of our Season 48 on your local PBS station.
Pavement tapes Austin City Limits, Oct. 10, 2022. Photos by Scott Newton.