Still Enchanted: The Return of Pavement

A rambling personal reminiscence on Pavement to mark the occasion of their first gig in 10 years.

The last time I saw Pavement was at the Roadmender in Northampton, sometime in the middle of 1992. Robert, a good friend at the time but someone I haven’t seen for a number of years, drove us down there from Birmingham*. Of the gig itself I remember thinking they were amazing, Gary Young was doing handstands and handing out celery, Bob Nastanovich may have been wearing a Luton Town FC replica shirt which seemed odd**, but the rest of the details are lost in the haze of time and premium lager. For some reason I missed the band when they played Birmingham, hence the trip down to Northampton. I think I was out of town at the time – possibly to see Ride who I’d often travel for. I remember being at another gig at the same venue a week beforehand (the legendary Edwards No.8) and stealing the Pavement poster advertising the gig – I had that on my wall at Uni for a long time. Edwards was probably the best venue in town circa 90-92 and I saw many amazing gigs there, all performed on a stage about 8 inches high (basically a raised dance floor). Nirvana, Tad, Fugazi, Bitch Magnet, The Lemonheads, Sugar, My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, Das Damen, Smashing Pumpkins, Sugar, The Verve, Dogs D’Amour, Rage Against The Machine, all come to mind. But, those are stories for another post. 1990-92 was a period of major transition for me. I’d quit my job, disentangled myself from a couple of destructive relationships, started hanging round with a different crowd and was about to head off to University. The move away from my home city marked a de facto change in my listening habits in that I left all my vinyl behind and only took CDs with me. This had the effect of making c1988 a bit of a year zero for music (apart from the first two Big Star albums, which actually sounded fairly contemporary thanks to Teenage Fanclub’s homage). Again, that’s a story for another post. I guess I first came across Pavement when The Wedding Present covered ‘Box Elder’ for the b-side of ‘Brassneck’ in 1990. It wasn’t until 1991’s ‘Summer Babe’ that I actually heard them. By the time the album came out the following year they’d built up quite a buzz. I remember hearing ‘Slanted and Enchanted’ in The Plastic Factory – an independent record shop on Corporation Street where a few alumni of my old record shop alma mater (Vinyl Dreams) worked. That last year in Brum I did a few days work there myself, although I’m pretty sure I was just hanging out when Mitch played me the album. Anyway, I bought it on the spot and played it a lot. I loved Malkmus’s drawl, seeming no-sequitur lyrics and the Sonic Youth tunings of the guitars and the fact that when a lot of my favourite artists were crossing over these guys seemed to embrace the willfulness and amateurism that would have them and their aesthetic brethren branded as slackers. Ironically, the band had made a creative leap by the time they released their follow up and most accessible album ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ before getting denser with ‘Wowee Zowee’, peaking (imho) with ‘Brighten The Corners’ and waving goodbye with the under appreciated ‘Terror Twilight’. I’d still hold those three middle three albums up as classics of the indie canon, and although I’ve played those albums a lot in the intervening years (all of them apart from the last now available in expanded editions) I’ve kind of overlooked their debut. So on Friday (which happened to be my birthday) I treated myself to the Luxe and Reduxe version of ‘Slanted and Enchanted’ and it’s been a revelation. I had come to think of this debut as being patchy, but it seems that was a false memory. Listening again now the Fall comparisons that seemed so obvious at the time are harder to spot apart from on a couple of tracks (‘Two States’ in particular). The slacker epithet has a bit more traction thanks mainly to Malkmus’s delivery and lyrics on the likes of ‘Here’ and ‘Summer Babe’, but there’s also a lot of focus, especially on the extras, which include the ‘Watery Domestic’ EP and two Peel sessions plus a contemporaneous Brixton Academy gig. And the quality of some of those extras – ‘Secret Knowledge of Backroads’, ‘Ed Ames’, the alternate mix of ‘Here’, ‘Shoot The Singer’ to name but four – are worth the price alone. The latter track has even made it onto their best of ‘Quarantine The Past’ due out in a couple of weeks. Considering they are on of my all time favourite bands, I don’t really know why I never saw them live again – I certainly saw a lot less bands in general between 92-97 – generally relying on what I could blag tickets for in exchange for a review while juggling my course and extra-curricular student activities. However, I am about to rectify this heinous oversight. Pavement play their first reunion show tonight in Auckland, NZ. I had hoped circumstances might allow me to be there but looks like I’m going to have to wait and catch them at their second gig at Sydney’s Enmore Theatre on Thursday. I’ve waited 18 years already, I guess three more days will be bearable.

*last time I saw Robert I was in the crowd at Benicassim (2003) and he was playing on the mainstage with The Zephyrs.
** if I recall correctly the band’s UK label head Abbo was a Luton fan.
Photo courtesy of Spiral Stairs’ blog

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