Music

Review: Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks Cut through the Noise at Metro

Last week, before polar vortex’s were all the rage , Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks came to Chicago for a show at the historic Metro. Malkmus carries a particularly legendary status with me, having fronted one of my all time favorite bands Pavement and released some of my favorite albums with the Jicks. I’ve had the opportunity to see them perform before and was really excited to see them again. Despite a few overzealous fans, Malkmus and the Jicks were able to cut through all the noise and give the crowd a great show.

Dehd opened up the show with a verifiably explosive set. The trio of Emily Kempf, Eric McGrady, and Jason Balla pack so much enthusiasm and genuine intensity into their music, making for riveting live performance. Kempf shined with her droning vocals and calculated bass, McGrady’s stoic determination at his minimal drum kit, and Balla unhinged guitar playing were working in a brilliant tandem, making it impossible not to focus on their performance. With a set full of new songs and old favorites like the undeniable jam “Sunburn”, Dehd definitely got the attention of the crowd.

After a long wait, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks emerged on stage and were met with an incredibly enthusiastic crowd. Despite his chill and mostly nonchalant demeanor, Malkmus carries an affecting aura around him. You immediately know he’s going to put on a good show and when you add the rest of the Jicks eagerness: Jake Morris happy drumming, Joanna Bolme’s center stage bass, and Mike Clark’s evershifting from guitar to key; it all piles up into something more than one could imagine.

While Malkmus and the Jicks were powering through their songs excellently, some of the crowd was a little too concerned with creating a moment for themselves. Sections of the crowd would scream out requests of old Pavement songs like “Range Life”, which felt so cringey in  the moment. It’s understandable that fans want to see and hear Malkmus dive into the past, but as an artist that has more albums under his own name and the Jicks than under Pavement, the jeers of the loyal fans felt stuck in the past and really took away from the show. The worse moment came during the encore, where the drinking had finally reached its peak and a few moments went well over the line. A spent cup full of ice hurled its way on stage and another exuberant fan bulldozed his way to the front, yelling at the stage “Billy’s here!” I don’t know if Corgan was actually in attendance, or if this annoying fan just wanted to make a scene, but it really distracted form a genuinely good show.

Thankfully, Malkmus and the Jicks never wavered and much of the crowd didn’t seem to care for these hecklers and heckled back at them “Play whatever you want!”, something I could truly get behind. The band powered through with some excellent tracks. Pulling mostly from last year’s release Sparkle Hard, Malkmus and Jicks dove into songs with deft precision, often finding themselves jamming out deep in to the songs grooves. Malkmus in particular would rip into his guitar with such skill, at times immersing himself into so much into song that he seemed to be in a trance to holding the guitar behind his head and flawlessly jamming out.

The rest of the setlist touched upon nearly every Jicks album in some way, with the notable exception of Stephen Malkmus. However I think songs off that album would have not jelled as well with the rest of the setlist this evening. The somber tone of Pig Lib‘s “Ramp of Death”, the guitar forwardness of “Independence Street”, the emphasis of Malkmus’ cadence on “Share the Red”; they all came together in a seamless way that the more esoteric and jovial sounding tracks would have stuck out like a sore thumb. Instead we were treated to a meticulously crafted set that hit the spot.

The encore seemed to be the moment than many of the diehard fans were looking for and came at a spot where a little divergence was more than welcome. A heartbreakingly gentle version of “Freeze the Saints” started things off with Clark playing the sparkling keys while Malkmus serenaded the crowd. “The Hexx” & “Starlings of the Slipstream” appeased the need for Pavement songs, at least I hope they did because these deeper cuts were incredibly good, and a Neil Young cover capped it all off. Despite the few obnoxious jagbags in the crowd, the show left a positive impression for the legendary band. I couldn’t help but meditate on the lines “You said, ‘done is good,’ but done well is so much fucking better.” Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks lived up to the “done well” notion and were absolutely right: it is so much fucking better.

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