Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks

support The Megaphonic Thrift
author TL date 29/01/14 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

A few years ago when Pavement reunited, PP had one of his brighter moments when he recommended that I accompany him to see the now legendary 90's slacker rock band play at Roskilde, and following the impression I got from that performance I went straight home and fell in love with a dozen of the band's songs. I didn't make it much deeper into their discography for a variety of reasons, but I did make a point to review frontman Stephen Malkmus' seventh post-Pavement album "Mirror Traffic" which I much enjoyed.

All photos available at troest.nu

Back in the present, Malkmus is visiting Lille Vega tonight with a new album out that I've just started listening to, and the mere reminder of the man has re-stuck the last album's single "Senator" to my mind without me even needing to listen to it. Still, as I make my way through icy Copenhagen aboard buses that limit their speed cautiously, I'm not sure what to expect both because I've only scratched the surface of the man's discography and because I have an early shift the coming morning. As I arrive in Vega however, I quickly realise that I can expect a full venue, as the cloak room line is unusually long, to the point where it hinders me from catching the first song by the support band:

The Megaphonic Thrift

The Megaphonic Thrift from Norway is a band whose name I've heard before but whose music I can't recall having heard, but as I scale the stairs of Lille Vega one thing is for sure: The band is playing ridiculously loud - louder than Tesseract and other various metal(core) bands I've seen here previously. Their style however is not metal, rather it's a lo-fi noise rock that veers between a hazy withdrawn melodiousness in the vein of Yo La Tengo and the thundering, reverberating walls of noise of a band like Weekend. The lighting casts them in dim colours, and in typical indie fashion their boy/girl vocal exchanges are a receded afterthought in the soundscape, leaving any first time listeners unaccommodated, who were hoping to learn if the songs are about anything but making noise. Unsurprisingly then, a seemingly unfamiliar Vega audience receives the band rather casually, but at least The Megaphonic Thrift do what they can to inject some energy, especially via the frontman's reoccuring lifting of his guitar up above his head to strum particularly important chords. Unsurprisingly, the set ends in a storm of feedback with the lead guitar being thrown on the floor, invoking most of the genre's clichés in a half hour slot that offered the predictable and didn't exactly do much to reach out to curious new listeners in the audience.

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Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks

After another half hour with the curtains drawn, I find myself up front keeping photo-Pete company when the lights dim and Malkmus and his friends stroll on stage. In keeping with the slacker-style, trying hard at anything is clearly off the agenda, as the singer/guitarist sends us a goofy hello. The light has changed to a plain yellow and the mix is better but still a bit loose as the band launches into the first of their easy-going tunes. Malkmus' oddball vocals slide up and down and on and off tune, sometimes audible, others not so much, and while Mike Clark shuffles his feet and sends grimaces out over the audience from behind the keyboard, drummer Jake Morris and bassist Joanna Bolme seem content to just groove about slightly and otherwise look unaffected.

With The Jicks' generally seeing Malkmus tilt his focus from the poppier side of Pavement to a slightly more guitar solo oriented approach, the frontman plays the project's many peculiar lead melodies mostly fingerpicking the strings on his guitar. Between every few songs he offers some laid-back, characteristically dorky remarks, and the audience seems to approve, clapping generously between numbers despite the fact that pretty much nothing is happening on either the stage or the floor. Malkmus drops a remark about the heat, and from where I'm standing I can also feel the stage lights, so I sympathize. Peter has left me after the standard three songs a photographer is allowed to shoot, and since I find myself position a bit in front of the venue's speakers, I decide to take some steps back to see if the sound is perhaps more precise there.

Turns out that I shouldn't have, because I quickly realise that Vega is PACKED to the rafters, and with many patrons exceeding my height of 5'11" it is not only completely impossible to navigate anywhere except for the outmost fringes of the room, it is also impossible to see anything from pretty much anywhere except from where I was at first, prompting me to consider for a moment if perhaps the venue should consider lowering the maximum number of tickets offered, to ensure an overall better experience for the audience?

Regardless, back on stage Malkmus and friend have made their way through some forty minutes of songs, a surprising majority of which I recognise from either "Mirror Traffic" or the new "Wig Out At Jagbags". If memory serves both "Planetary Motion", "Lariat", "Rumble at the Rainbo" and "Houston Hades" represent the latter, while the former contributes "Tigers", "No One Is (As I Are Be)" and the ever-brazen "Senator". So why am I still bored witless? I mean except for the fact that nothing is happening. Oh wait, that's probably why.

I know. Obviously it seems contradictory to go see an artist that's been labelled a slacker all his career and expect much of a show, but still, I'm rather surprised that depths of showmanship such as this exist, and by extension, that it somehow draws a full room and a loud applause. The songs are delivered in assembly line fashion, and other than slinging his guitar lazily behind his head to play a part at some point, Malkmus isn't really doing anything to suggest that it wouldn't be more enjoyable to listen to him on record at home while going about your own thing, as opposed to doing it standing on your toes, shoulder to shoulder with a few hundred indie types in their woolen winter wear.

Apparently The Jicks are not a band people dance or sing along to (in Copenhagen at least) and while you'd expect that songs cut from such similar cloth as their material is, would have their meaning emphasized somewhat in the live setting, this is not the case. The lyrics are recited without much eye-contact or other communication with the crowd, and generally the whole thing strikes me as disturbingly lacklustre, intentionally so or not. Reportedly it plays on for 96 minutes, but after the first 65 I just straight up lose track of any reason, rational or otherwise, for my still being here, prompting me to do something I've never done - through seven years of both reviewing and just plain old music-nerdism - I walk out of a headliners' show before it's finished. A spot of unprofessionalism on my record? Sure, but after failing to recall a moment when I've felt more bored, I just haven't seen anything to convince me that tonight's show is worth a higher grade than 4½. I guess my disappointing takeaway then, is that Stephen Malkmus strikes me as a dude you should mainly listen to on record these days, but in fairness a full Lille Vega seemed to clap like it was an 8, so hey, let's compromise.

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