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Concert Sat Feb 22 2014
I can safely say that Stephen Malkmus was one of the first musicians that captured my attention. During my early teens I was stuck in a desert of bad music, listening only to what friends and family listened to. It wasn't all bad, it just didn't grab me. Around 14 or 15 I was hit with a wave of incredibly great music with Pavement being one of the standouts. By that time they were no longer together, but Stephen Malkmus was still going strong with his new band the Jicks. I played that first solo-but-not-really-solo album nonstop. This was my first opportunity to see Stephen Malkmus after I missed the Pavement reunion shows in 2010, so I was incredibly excited.
Opening up the night at Lincoln Hall was Chicago band Disappears. Brian Case, lead singer and founding member of the group, quickly introduced the band though a haze of unintelligible reverb. It really suited the band as they started off mysteriously quiet, guitars and bass buzzing lightly. Drums came in a slow burn that eventually turned into a strong post rock sound. Disappears have a very laidback feel to them, especially Case as he rocks back and forth during the set. A near industrial screech filled the area between the heady songs, all while an array of geometric shapes projected behind them danced to and fro. The video started off slow, but much like the band it continued to transform at dizzying speed. The lines doubled and tripled until they looked as if they were an alien language, perfectly accompanying the Disappears sound.
Despite a slight technical difficulty with the patterned video at the end of the set, Disappears put on a incredible show with the highlight surely being Noah Leger's drumming. The four piece band has gone through numerous drummers over the years, each one offering something substantially different than the last. Leger showed what an incredible addition he is to the group. Toward the end of the set, Leger hit a grandiose peak, as he skillfully assaulted the translucent drum set to a surprisingly ethereal moment.
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks took the stage rather calmly. It was incredible to see Malkmus' stage presence. At times he seemed completely calm, joking with the crowd about the puddles filling the Chicago streets or making offhanded references to Wilco. More often than not, he looked as if he was in a trance, engulfed in his guitar and jamming out like he was during "Cartjunk". It was an interesting shift, especially when Malkmus fumbled the start of a song or two. He always had a quick with funny response to the error, mentioning he was skipping the boring parts (just kidding, he added) or that he was playing the John Fahey version.
The Jicks were also very fun on stage. Mike Clark expertly shifted from guitar and keyboard on one end of the stage. Behind him was former Joggers drummer Jake Morris, who prompted "Houston Hades" with a riotous question to the crowd, "You like vodka and orange juice?" Joanna Bolme's infectious laugh paralleled her impeccable bass skills as she looked at Malkmus, following his constantly drifting jamming.
The majority of the songs came from The Jicks' last two albums, Mirror Traffic and Wig Out At Jagbags. Most of the Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks albums were represented with the exception of Real Emotional Trash, which was quite disappointing to me. There are so many good songs on that album that would have been a welcome addition to the setlist. However, Malkmus and the Jicks did more than make up for the slight with their wholly entertaining showmanship. During a "Us", Malkmus cradled his guitar upside down atop his shoulder, playing it as if this was its most natural position. Moments like that were strewn across the set, always catching the audience by surprise.
The biggest pops from the audience of course came when Malkmus and the Jicks played some older songs. "Jo Jo's Jacket" was the first of the night and was embraced wholeheartedly. As the opening lines started everyone at the venue couldn't help but sing along. The gradual beginning of "Baby C'mon" lead to the audience pleading the along with Malkmus. It was "Jenny & the Ess Dog" that truly got everyone going, where the crowd was nearly drowning out the band with every syllable of the song being shouted out.
The encore encapsulated Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks wonderfully. They returned to the stage unsure of what to play, Malkmus lamenting on how to end the night. A small conference between the members occurred on stage, Morris jokingly letting the audience know that this should have been done backstage. Malkmus mused it was a loss of confidence, but thankfully Joanna Bolme assured the crowd it was not. They played a little something new with "Surreal Teenagers" before completely knocking the crowd over with a cover of "Stereo". The surprise Pavement song received the loudest reaction of the night and would have been a perfect way to end the set, but Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks had to out do it. A medley of Beck's "The Golden Age", "Debra", and Pavement's "Gold Soundz" certainly did the trick. The songs flowed into one another gracefully, each song raising the bar higher and higher. It was a completely intoxicating end to great show.