For Those About to Rock

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. At SOhO, Saturday, January 13.

Reviewed by Max Burke

Stephen-Malkmus.jpgSOhO has been booking some excellent acts in the last few months. It’s to their credit that Santa Barbara audiences have a chance to see A-list, nationally touring groups like TV on the Radio, Calexico, and now Stephen Malkmus, former front man for truly the best American rock band of the ’90s, Pavement.

Opening group Entrance had the power and energy to peel the paint off the walls as they launched into lengthy psych-jam explorations grounded in a pounding rhythm section. Unfortunately, the too-timid crowd simply nodded their heads, arms-crossed, in the typical indie rock fan pose. With a live sound closer to a cleaned up Comets on Fire than folk revivalism, Entrance did its job in preparing the audience for the aggressive guitar-rock onslaught that Malkmus and his Jicks would unleash.

Kicking the set off with a fierce rendition of “Jo Jo’s Jacket” — the bizarre and excellent Yul Brynner-inspired tune from his debut record — Malkmus never let the momentum let up. Much new material was played, and the lengthy guitar workouts and loose structure of the songs suggest that he is heading further in the direction of his last record, Face the Truth, which seems to trade the technically exemplary but somewhat staid atmosphere of his first two LPs for the more unhinged charm of classic-era Pavement. If the new songs make their way to the recording studio with their live immediacy intact, it will certainly be Malkmus’s finest solo moment to date.

The only downside to such a tremendous show was the crowd. As Malkmus played song after song of potent and compelling rock and roll, the crowd would yell and clap between songs, but those who were really moving around and enjoying themselves were few and far between. Rock music, particularly in its live distillation, is a baldly fun and slightly silly proposition — Malkmus understands this deeply — but the self-seriousness and pretension of Saturday night’s sold-out crowd didn’t match the intensity and earnestness of the performers.

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