At the end of 2010’s official Hollywood Bowl season one of indie rock’s most heralded reunions, Pavement, finally had its chance to play Los Angeles. Boasting the stellar opening roster of Sonic Youth and Los Angeles’ own No Age, this was a solid chance for the acclaimed kings of the original college/indie music scene to show their ascendancy to bona fide titans beyond even their usual associations. Did the Stockton, California natives have the goods to deliver in the face of that opportunity?
Arriving just in time for No Age’s finale, guitarist Randy Randall and drummer Dean Allen Spunt were rendering their set’s closing moments. The last few minutes bubbled into a cacophonous wall of noise. Just a few short minutes later and the legendary Sonic Youth were on stage and set to perform.
The four-piece of Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, Lee Renaldo and Steve Shelley proved with ease the validity of their reputation. Moore and Renaldo bended and twisted each note on “Death Valley ’69” fluidly, evoking their noisy inflections with effortless technique. Rarity “Shadow of a Doubt” allowed Gordon to belt out, “Swear it wasn’t meant to be” with confidence and aggression. As the group faded tracks out into dissonance and feedback, each of them would strike violent poses, aiming their pick-ups to catch artful resonance from their speakers. Gordon stands equally with her male counterparts, evoking the rare of mix rock-and-roll cool with charismatic femininity. Moore and Renaldo both took their turns at the microphone shouting out tunes from the band’s lengthy career. The last few numbers ripped into heavier territory with crushing authority. Sonic Youth showed here (as they have consistently for thirty years) why they are the preeminent alternative rock band. The band wielded noise and alternate tunings like a master painter would his brush, all without losing any iota of melodic continuity. Sadly, still underrated even after time-and-again proving their excellence, this is who should have been the headliner of this show.
Pavement failed to live up to the hype. The band started off strong with “Frontwards,” “Shady Lane” and “Rattled By the Rush,” showing the fun-loving side of their music. This brought the crowd to its feet. Front man Stephen Malkmus plucked out the twangy chords while Bob Nastanovich, the band’s answer to the Mighty Mighty Bosstones’s hype man/dancer Ben Carr, yelled accompanying backing vocals. And while the jangly silliness of the first half of their set was enjoyable and crowd-pleasing, the latter half drifted into meandering boredom. Malkmus proclaimed at one point, “We’re going to kill the vibe. We specialize in that.” The tracks from that point on reflected the mopey and disinterested side of their sound. “Stereo” bobbed forth with little energy, and even “Range Life” came off as less than focused. Malkmus thanked the fans for supporting them and hinted that this was pretty much their “last show in North America.” (Draw your own conclusions of whether that statement means more than that in the permanent sense of things). Ending with “Here,” as Malkmus barked at the rest of the band to hurry up since they were nearly out of time, the enthusiasm they started with seemed to be wearing off. Their chemistry seemed to dissipate even over the course of the show.
Pavement indeed has a large contingent of fans, but as far as reunions go, this lacked the excitement and focus necessary to solidify their stature as artists deserving life-long respect. Sonic Youth on the other hand, came through with aplomb. They’re alternative rock’s true elder statesmen.