Gig Review and Photography by John Bentley

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Tonight many folk will have come to see Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks because of our hero being a one time member of legendary, laid-back, US indie band Pavement. The influence of Pavement on the music scene has been enormous. However, Malkmus has now made more albums solo or with The Jicks than he did with Pavement and his career has clearly moved on. Tonight’s gig at Nottingham is one of just five shows that the band are playing in the UK, on their current world tour.

Huskies, Nottingham Rescue Rooms

I was looking forward to seeing the billed support band, Mazes. However, they had to withdraw from the gig. The last time I tried to go and see them their van broke down, so it looks like I am jinxed as far as that ensemble is concerned. Instead the support slot is provided by local Nottingham band Huskies. Huskies are a fourpiece, playing enjoyable jangly guitar pop. Youthful but confident lead singer, Antonio, is a bit of a Buddy Holly lookalike, only with more fashionable hair. But then any fresh-faced young guy with big black plastic-framed specs probably bears a resemblance to Holly. The promising band have songs to download, but nothing committed to hard round plastic as yet.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Nottingham Rescue Rooms

Looking at recent gig setlists, Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks seem to play a different bunch of songs every night. Very unusual, as most bands stick to more or less a fixed setlist throughout a tour. Furthermore, these days Malkmus has a habit of slipping in the odd Pavement song and even oddball covers by artists ranging from Roxy Music to Guns N’ Roses. Malkmus could never have enjoyed such flexibility when playing with Pavement, but it seems that these days he’s experimenting and having a lot of fun on the road. So it’s interesting to see what’s on the menu tonight. Given the wide range of songs Malkmus plays, it must be a demanding job being a musician in the Jicks. However, long established members Joanna Bolme (bass), Mike Clark (guitar and keyboards) and Jake Morris (drums) prove they are easily up to the task throughout the evening.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Nottingham Rescue Rooms

Malkmus and The Jicks take the stage at The Rescue Rooms with minimal ceremony.  “Welcome to your home town”, says Malkmus, slightly awkwardly. The band launch into a ramshackle rendition of ‘Jo Jo’s Jacket’, from the first solo album. Malkmus is always an interesting lyricist and here the song takes on the persona of film star Yul Brynner, these days perhaps best known for his part as the robot cowboy in the sci-fi film Westworld, which is namechecked in the song.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Nottingham Rescue Rooms

Most of the material performed tonight is from the last two Jicks albums, ‘Wig Out At Jagbags’ and ‘Mirror Traffic’. Among the new album material played is standout track ‘Lariat’, a wry commentary on rock nostalgia, where he’s “listening to the music from the best decade ever”. It features characteristically quirky Malkmus lyrics, like “We lived on Tennyson and venison and The Grateful Dead”. Ho, hum.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Nottingham Rescue Rooms

While the spirit of Pavement is present throughout the gig, Malkmus’s work with the Jicks delves into other musical genres and arrangements are often intricate. He’s obviously taken on board prog-rock and he even plays a bit of a guitar wig-out behind his head, in traditional axe-hero style. However, it’s all none too serious and he’s clearly enjoying being on stage and interacting with the band. There’s plenty of variety in the set and, as a counterpoint to the noisy stuff, Malkmus downs the guitar and picks up the microphone to sing the sensitive ballad ‘Freeze The Saints’, to piano accompaniment by Mike Clark.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Nottingham Rescue Rooms

The gig ends with the angular, Beefheartian, ‘Surreal Teenagers’, from the new album, before the band return for a three song encore. “You guys are better than I thought you’d be. I must admit I had low expectations”, muses Malkmus. I’m not sure why he thought that, but no one in the enthused audience seems to be holding it against him. Malkmus is a bit of an anglophile (he even has a song that mentions Stoke-on-Trent) and he tells us that he’s worried about Hull football club (of which he is a supporter).

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Nottingham Rescue Rooms

But on with the encore and the first song is ‘Cold Son’, the only selection tonight from 2008’s ‘Real Emotional Trash’ album. Then – gold dust – they play Pavement fave ‘Summer Babe’, to great applause. He devotes the song to The Leadmill, the famous Sheffield venue where he’s played before. And finally we get ‘Houston Hades’, from the new album – a very Pavement-like song. However, overall it’s been a pretty diverse and a very charming evening of alternative rock music performed by an indie icon.

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, Nottingham Rescue Rooms

Setlist (I think!): Jo Jo’s Jacket; Asking Price; Stick Figures In Love; Rumble At The Rainbo’; The Janitor Revealed; Lariat; Share The Red; Cinnamon and Lesbians; Shibboleth; Chartjunk; Freeze The Saints; Earth Hour; Vanessa From Queens; Surreal Teenagers. Encore; Cold Son; Summer Babe; Houston Hades.

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