A couple years ago, while drinking tea with Stephen Malkmus, I prodded him about the Jicks. Malkmus seemed to be enjoying his post-Pavement autonomy, but he also enjoyed the dynamics of playing with a handpicked support band. He was still getting used to the idea of calling his then-upcoming record, Pig Lib, a “Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks” disc. “I guess I’ve got my Neil Young and Crazy Horse thing going,” he said. Of course, it was a runaround joke at the time, but it has since become his reality.
Although he’s returned to solo status on his current release, Face the Truth, Malkmus nonetheless has enlisted the Jicks to tour behind the album. Why? Because, apparently, rust never sleeps.
Jicks or no Jicks, solo artist or bandleader, one thing is obvious—Malkmus is no longer just “the dude from Pavement.” In front of a sold-out audience on a Sunday night in Philadelphia, he and the Jicks hammer their way through the majority of Face the Truth, touch on a few Pig Lib holdovers, and round out the show with a couple would-be B-Sides. Fittingly, midway though the set when someone throws something onstage, a bemused Malkmus identifies the object as a “carrot rope,” noting that it’s also the name of a Pavement tune—“It was the last song on the last record,” he says, cracking a smile. But when someone yells, “Play it!” the Jicks instead launch into a new tune (“Baby C’mon”). No one seems to mind.
Now in his 30s and a new father, Malkmus still performs with the carefree air of an after-school buddy, goofing around on instruments in the basement. The few short jams at the show (“It Kills,” “No More Shoes,” “Animal Midnight”) were rarely transcendent but always reassuring in their casualness, and the band didn’t properly “finish” songs so much as wrap them up and move on. It was informal, relaxed and comfortable—words not usually reserved for a rock show. At ease, boys, at ease! It’s true certain songs (“Water and a Seat,” “Wild Ass Jeans”) approached brinks where they came dangerously close to collapse, but the thrill of survival—of disaster narrowly averted—was worth it every time. And yet other songs, like “Pencil Rot” and “I’ve Hardly Been” were performed with the sort of guttural immediacy they require, without sacrificing any of their finer subtleties. None of this was lost on the crowd and all of it is a compliment to both Stephen Malkmus and his band of merry Jicks.
They may not know how to put on a “How’s everybody doing tonight?” cliché rock show, but they sure know how to rock out.