Pavement – Civic Theatre: March 7, 2023 (Concert Review)

Pavement performed at Auckland’s regal Civic Theatre and The 13th Floor’s Jeff Neems and Ivan Karczewski were there to catch the vibe.
Twenty-eight years is a long time to wait to see one of your favourite rock bands again.

As a fresh-faced 22-year-old, new to the sights and sounds of London, I saw an energetic and somewhat chaotic Pavement perform at the Brixton Academy. Friday, 9 June, 1995 – the ticket is in a poster frame on my wall, alongside dozens of others from my gig-going life.

I saw Pavement as they approached their zenith, and although the memories of that show are now largely faded, I do recall a surging and enthusiastic crowd, and a weird but enthralling on-stage energy. That energy changed within a few years, and by late 1999 it appeared Pavement was done, lead singer and co-founder Stephen Malkmus having told band mates – including co-founder Scott Kannberg (aka Spiral Stairs) – he simply couldn’t continue, and felt handcuffed to life in what some music scribes tagged “slacker rock”.

The years passed, the band members ventured down different musical paths, and it came as a surprise to many when they announced a reunion in 2009, accompanied a few months later by a superb best-of set, Quarantine the Past (a lyric from Gold Soundz, one of their most popular tunes). A 2010 tour included an Auckland date, which – much to my later regret – I made no effort to attend, for a reason I’ve long since forgotten.

But I’d never really stopped listening, regularly returning to the dozen or so albums and EPs I own.

When a second reunion tour was announced in 2019 – and with Pavement having always had a solid following in New Zealand through the regular airplay on student radio – an Auckland date, at the very least, seemed likely.

Although original drummer Gary Young is long gone, Kannberg and Malkmus still perform with bassist Mark Ibold, drummer John West and the always entertaining percussionist and singer-come-yelper-come-comedian Bob Nastanovich (same as he ever was, regularly engaging the crowd directly and tossing bits and pieces from the stage for the punters to grasp as keepsakes).

PavementDespite palpable excitement levels of a floppy-haired teenage fan-boy, I must admit I was a little nervous – perhaps even skeptical – about how the Civic show on this tour would go. Reports from shows elsewhere hinted at hit-and-miss performances. The band’s clever social media posts kept me engaged, albeit fascinated by the prospect of what we’d actually get on the night.

Perhaps it’s best not to set too many expectations going into a long-awaited “30th-ish anniversary tour” show.

Because thankfully last night’s performance in front of a largely full Civic was a delight.

A mix of well-known hits and more obscure offerings, the group’s set stretched out across 27 songs from a seven-album repertoire the once famously dysfunctional group now appear fiercely proud of.

There were singalong classics – Cut Your Hair, Summer Babe, Range Life, Shady Lane and the tremendous Gold Soundz – but also more reflective moments and even a few bonus instrumental periods which really caught the attention.

Elsewhere in the lengthy set, lesser-known but equally impressive album cuts featured, such as the truly brilliant Box Elder (from the raw and edgy Westing by Musket and Sextant), Stop Breathing and fabulously rowdy Stereo. Pavement’s repertoire comprises short compositions of no more than a couple of minutes, while still featuring extended pieces when the musicians’ real skill and experience together shine.

Malkmus is the understated star of the show, a truly gifted songwriter whose clever lyrics resemble riddles and poetry, at times a little difficult to understand but never out-and-out nonsense. Familiar fans appreciate the sharpness of his story-telling, his word play and wit, all of which he welds superbly to his work on guitar. The band’s current sound engineer deserves kudos here, as Malkmus’ voice sounded superb, as good in the gilded theatre as it ever did on the albums.

PavementAlthough at times Pavement’s music can be raucous and jarring, that was never the case at the Civic. The melodies and textures shone, lapped up by a crowd made up largely of blokes in their 40s and 50s, perhaps – like me reliving – their 20s, when they had more hair, less money, and very few cares.

As far as reunion shows go, this was from the top shelf, delivered by a veteran and well-rehearsed group of remarkably cohesive players, who now appear to be genuinely comfortable among themselves, with on-stage banter, plenty of smiles, and a sense they really like what they’re doing.

A quick mention for Auckland trio Half Hexagon, an unusual choice for local support, with their moody and somewhat bleepy electronic sound, driven by Julien Dyne’s exceptional drumming. Occupying a space somewhere between Ladyhawke, Blondie and 80s synth-pop, their set comprised about eight tunes – but felt like an awkward appetiser before the main course. There’s a buzz around Half Hexagon, and as retro-synth flavours grow in popularity, many in the crowd appeared keen. Our party was less fussed, and would really have preferred another 30 minutes of the headline act, and a slightly earlier finish.

Jeff Neems

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Ivan Karczewski:

Half Hexagon:

Click here for tickets to see Pavement in Wellington tonight