Twenty Years Later and Still Going Strong

September 26th, 2011

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Webster Hall – September 25, 2011

Stephen Malkmus is an elder statesman of indie rock. With Pavement, his first and best-known band, he achieved critical and (somewhat) commercial success. But more important, he influenced a generation of music. His snarky, hyperliterate lyrics matched with meandering and playful guitar parts embodied Generation X—sarcastic, laid-back and smart. But with the desire to be more than a singularly defined musician, Malkmus went on to play with Silver Jews, attempt a solo career and start a new band, his current project, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.

It’s with this lineup, a quartet featuring Malkmus on guitar and vocals, Mike Clark on guitar and keys, Joanna Bolme on bass and Jake Morris on drums, that Malkmus now focuses his energy. And on Sunday night at Webster Hall, Malkmus brought the group to promote their latest effort, Mirror Traffic. Now in the 2Ks (as the new song “Tigers” labels this period), Malkmus still composes himself as assuredly cool. Tall, lean and with a mop of shaggy brown hair, he looks like a well-preserved version of his younger self. And standing off to the side of the stage, he engaged with his songs as a veteran does: confidently and professionally.

While playing through songs both old (opening with “Baby C’mon” and closing with “1% of One”) and new (material from Mirror Traffic, highlighted by “Senator” and “Stick Figures in Love”), the band looked to be enjoying themselves, especially Morris. The drummer, the most animated of the bunch, head-banged, cracked jokes and skillfully provided fills in otherwise unoccupied musical spaces. Outside of his enthusiasm, everyone else in the group let their play, rather than their manner, communicate the songs’ pungent energy. Malkmus’s guitar solos certainly showed technical proficiency, although their effectiveness came more from playing the right notes at the right time. More than 20 years of musical excellence makes such play second nature. —Jared Levy

Photos courtesy of Mina K