For Pavement to finally put on a solid live show in town, all it took was two different 10-year breaks and a venue no better suited for quilting conventions.
Usually a bewildered and sometimes even disengaged live band in the heyday of the ’90s, the beloved indie-rockers from Stockton, Calif., delivered an atypically steady and enthusiastic performance Wednesday night at a packed Palace Theater in St. Paul. It may be their best performance yet in the Twin Cities.
The last time Pavement came to town on their reunion tour in 2010 was pretty good too. However, fans struggled to appreciate it in the notoriously rude Roy Wilkins Auditorium – which guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg called “that weird room” during this show.
It’s funny how the palace turned out to be better for concerts in the capital, even though it was built a quarter of a century before the Wilkins and closed for 30 years before reopening in 2017.
Wednesday’s set was absolutely brilliant. Kannberg’s cool, offbeat guitar work with frontman Stephen Malkmus sometimes sounded crisper and more melodic than on their lo-fi albums. New keyboardist Rebecca Cole (Wild Flag) also added some nice overlays.
As if emphasizing the richer sound, the band seemed to avoid their 1992 debut album, “Slanted and Enchanted”, adored by fans but rustic, extracting only three songs from it: “Zurich Is Stained”. , “Trigger Cut” and “Two States”. They saved that last one for the finale and kindly dedicated it to the late Twin Cities rock guru Ed Ackerson (Polara, BNLX).
More heavily represented in the setlist were their next records, “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” and “Wowee Zowee”. They delivered the former’s single “Cut Your Hair” — their biggest hit, modestly speaking — right away as the second song, then used “Stop Breathin” as the pre-encore finale. In between, “Gold Soundz” and “Range Life” sparked nostalgic and catchy songs.
Malkmus didn’t soften the derogatory lyrics against former touring mates Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots on “Range Life,” as he suggested in a recent interview. But he changed the part about “pigs, fuzz, cops, heat”, inserting the extra line, “All cops are bastards”.
From “Wowee Zowee,” the “Serpentine Pad” explosive blaster became a fun centerpiece for the band’s Iowa-based percussionist/screamer Bob Nastanovich, whose blasts seem messier yet more charming with age. Kannberg took the mic for “Kennel District,” and the band rose up around him.
Ostensibly catering to the nerdiest of their record-collecting fan base, the band also dropped several deep cuts of EPs and bonus editions. Highlights included the 1992 anthem “Box Elder” and the short but sweet “Wowee” release “Gangsters and Pranksters”.
A decade after Pavement’s ten-year hiatus ended, Wednesday’s show seemed to be as fun for Malkmus and his often aloof castmates as it was for the fans. This too was a key ingredient. If they can keep that zeal on their side, there’s no reason for another 10-year gap.