Gig Review by Andrew Lindsay with Photography by John Bentley

Built in 1908 and Grade II listed, Manchester’s Albert Hall is another of those cherished Edwardian community buildings that are enjoying new life as a live music venue. The horseshoe gallery of the former Methodist chapel looks out towards a magnificent organ directly below which stand Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Manchester Albert Hall

Recordings of both Malkmus and his original band Pavement (big in the ‘90s apparently) had passed me by but a live appearance on KCRW’s excellent Morning Becomes Eclectic radio show intrigued.

A tall, lean, fifty-something tennis playing, horse riding dude from California/Oregon Malkmus exudes a languid cool. ‘Cast Off’ is a confident opener and immediately confirms that this is a grand slam band. A pretty piano figures alternates with crashing guitar and drums as Malkmus’s vocal cuts through: “I need some attention!”. ‘Bike Lane’ follows and is another song of contrasts… the jaunty beautiful bike lane at odds with the account of the death of a young black man while in the custody of the Baltimore police.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Manchester Albert Hall

The next two numbers showcase Malkmus as guitar hero (he has a penchant for playing the instrument above and behind his head). ‘Stick Figures in Love’ is particularly effective as the dual guitars lock into a jangly interplay. ‘Solid Silk’ is better still as the band instrumentally lock onto a groove. ‘Refute’, one of the strongest and funniest songs from the new album Sparkle Hard, speaks of a woman wooing her au pair with ‘Egon Schiele prints and French fries’. The country flavour brings a welcome change of tone to the show. On the album Malkmus drafted his old friend Kim Gordon (Sonic Youth) to assist with vocals and boost interest in the project. Her parts tonight are taken a tad tentatively by the otherwise tonally excellent bassist, Joanna Bolme.

Stage patter needs some attention. Band introductions are slack. Malkmus also tells an odd tale of a woman who bought tickets nine months beforehand for a show but was unable to go as she had just given birth. If this bore any relation to the song that followed – ‘Witch Mountain Bridge’ – then the connection was lost on me.

‘Freeze the Saints’ is the highlight of the show featuring just Malkmus’ voice and Mike Clark’s piano. It has emotional punch and is over much too quickly.

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Manchester Albert Hall

Among the encores are two numbers from Pavement days. ‘And Then (The Hexx)’ is much welcomed by longstanding fans. A faithful cover of ‘Barstool Blues’ from Malkmus’ favourite Neil Young album (Zuma) closes proceedings.

Truth be told it is not a great show. Most numbers are greeted with polite applause and most of the crowd seem happy to head for the exits rather than stomp for more. Perhaps that’s a reflection of the high proportion of songs from the new album; the sound (a thuddy echo for too much of the time) and Malkmus himself. Unbothered is his thing but that’s open to refute.

Setlist: Cast Off; Bike Lane; Cinnamon and Lesbians; Shiggy; Stick Figures in Love; Solid Silk; Rattler; Refute; Witch Mountain Bridge; Jenny & The Ess-Dog; Freeze the Saints; Lariat; Kite. Encores: No Tan Lines; And Then (The Hexx); Barstool Blues

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Manchester Albert Hall

Support band is Girl Ray, a young trio from North London, who cite Pavement as one of their key influences. Their studio recordings are excellent with the poppy melody of ‘Stupid Things’ being especially appealing. They are at their best when they harmonise. More of this please. Bass lines are inventive and the guitars work well but the show is marred by the sound. Poppy Hankin’s delicate voice is too often overwhelmed by the instruments.

Girl Ray, Manchester Albert Hall

First support Spinning Coin, a four-piece band from Glasgow, provided a well-received half hour of jangly twin-guitar indie rock.

Spinning Coin, Manchester Albert Hall

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