Pavement + Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever @ Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, 28.02.2023
By Tom McCall
Pavement are finally back to tour Australia for the first time since their brief previous reunion in 2010 and 30 years on since their first appearance in Brisbane. There was cautious optimism from myself and likely many other Pavement fans when the gigs were announced, with the caution resulting from the classic fear of bands reuniting after so long having a diminished spark compared with their prime. I eased these fears by watching a video of their recent Primavera Sound performance which showed them clearly well-rehearsed and excited about revisiting their back catalogue and with surprisingly high energy for a band who the term “Slacker Rock” was basically coined for. It was clear that they’re not just going through the motions to cash in on renewed interest in their work but that they’re genuinely passionate about playing again to old fans and for the first time to those who have discovered their music in the intervening years. I’m in the latter category and it’s a pleasant surprise to be able to see them live after assuming I’d never get the opportunity.
It took me quite a while to properly get into Pavement. They seemed to be at an uncomfortable mid-point between my musical interests when I first came across them. Too chaotic and slack sounding to lump in with more polished and streamlined indie rock yet too frequently slow tempo and ponderous to fit in with my more punk-oriented favourites. It ended up being this blend of these usually opposite/competing axes of alt-rock that led them to become one of my favourite bands as they seemed to suddenly click and make sense like they do for so many others and once I hit my 20’s I was a fan of almost everything they put out. They have a distinctive style that’s unmistakably their own but they’ve got a pretty diverse range of moods and song types that keeps their albums engaging and fairly unpredictable, something that I predicted would translate well to a 2-hour long live set.
Opening band Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever demonstrate the lingering influence that Pavement have continued to have over Australian indie rock, which is particularly clear in many of the Melbourne band’s contemporaries over the last decade in what’s often semi-ironically called ‘Dolewave’. Opener ‘An Air Conditioned Man’ shows off a similar melodic jangle guitar interplay with understated vocals but as it develops it reveals a more distinctive approach with it’s long psychedelic jam outro. The rest of their eight-song set keeps the audience on-board with fantastic overlapping guitar lines, extended instrumental jams and the vocals being shared by three band members, adding to the variety. It’s a strong, confident performance which seems to have won over the bulk of the audience.
Pavement’s set begins with their late-career minor hit ‘Spit on a Stranger’, a perfectly understated way to kick things off. They roll right into newly revitalised B-side ‘Harness Your Hopes’, which has the younger contingent at the front amped up and cheering. It’s a fantastic tune with a glorious ascending melody through the verses, classic obscurantist and sarcastic Malkmus lyrics and that slight country twang guitar that goes through a lot of their later work. The strange resurgence of the song came about through some Spotify algorithm magic that barely anyone can explain and a brief time trending across TikTok. You can tell the band appreciate the new interest by their readiness to play it consistently in their latest shows and even record a video for the song for the first time. The continuing interest in Pavement in young audiences is nice to see, with quite a lot of late-teens/early 20’s fans in the crowd alongside those that have been onboard since their original run.
Pavement aren’t shy in bringing out old obscurities and early material, with songs from their early EP’s and about half of Slanted and Enchanted being represented in their set-list. The more high energy early tunes help provide quick jabs of adrenalin between their more drawn-out meditative jams. Achieving this energy is in no small part helped by Bob Nastanovich – the band’s second percussionist and perennial hype-man, who bounces forward with his tambourine and shouts the songs’ refrains out to the crowd, adding contrast to Malkmus’ classic laidback presence. ‘Conduit for Sale’ and ‘Two States’ may be fairly minor Fall-tributes on record but in a live setting the energy draws in the whole crowd and chanting out “I’m trying!” and “Forty million daggers!” among thousands of fellow fans is a great communal experience. New live keyboardist Rebecca Cole is also a great addition, adding more fullness to the live sound and more variety in the background vocals. Malkmus and Kannberg’s guitar interplay shine on classics like ‘Grounded’ and the final minutes of ‘Stop Breathing’ which has perfectly interlocking guitar lines and creates a beautiful dreamy atmosphere that shows how their chemistry as musicians hasn’t diminished over time. There can be few complaints about tonight’s setlist as almost every classic and fan favourite is played across their 26-track set, with ‘Trigger Cut’ and ‘Shady Lane’ maybe being the only notable absences. It was a performance that I’m sure all Pavement fans can be satisfied by and we can only hope that they can stay together long enough to return again some day.