Hearst Greek Theatre; Berkeley, CA
You’d think reunion tours would have something … special to them, some spark that would be powerful enough to invoke an emotion affecting the mindset of those involved. Minds being blown, especially to a crowd that, mostly, never even witnessed the band originally. A vibe that could shake the foundations of the venue.
None of that happened when Pavement played at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, CA. (And if you find that awful, stop reading. NOW)
Perhaps an imminent warning sign is the notice that tickets were still available to the show prior to opening at the box office. Now, at the time Pavement started playing, the venue was at about 90 percent capacity (based on observation), and the venue is pretty large (8500 seats). But given the sold-out shows in Central Park this fall, and the close proximity to hometown Stockton, CA, (which they just happened to play for the first time the night before), one would think this particular show would have sold out in the same amount of time those four shows did. That it didn’t may not just undermine the importance of this show, but the tour in general.
Pavement rolled in shortly after 9 PM, opening with the classic “Cut Your Hair,” followed by another, lesser-known “cut,” “Frontwards.” Steve Malkmus and crew threw down some weight: The set was filled with the hits, including “Spit on a Stranger” and “Gold Soundz,” and some lesser gems like “The Hexx” and “Unfair.” They also played a new song, supposedly titled “Linden” (though that title may have be mixed up with “Lions (Linden)”). A big surprise was calling in original drummer Gary Young during the encore, who played a couple numbers from Slanted & Enchanted.
It all should have made for an incredible night. Yet, the concert felt incredibly underwhelming. Everyone except the unpredictable Young was playing solidly, but not much more. The band got along and were enjoying themselves, and Stephen Malkmus behaved himself, but there were few if any shining moments that could raise the crowd into a frenzy. Every song was played with little deviation. The setlist’s depth was, at best, predictable. The more time they played, the more the crowd was into it, but it felt so standard. Their set length, 1 hour and 20 minutes, with a 15-minute encore, made the show as a whole seem more like part of a tour for an album (which, given the release of Quarantine the Past, it partly is) than a full-blooded reunion. Any person, never having heard Pavement or understanding their significance, would have simply seen this as an unexceptional indie-rock show.
Maybe they’ll improve by the time they reach New York in September. Maybe, like their ’80s brethren Mission of Burma and Dinosaur Jr., they’ll return to the studio and turn this reunion into a comeback. But for now, Pavement’s reunion tour just seems to cover the fans. And it doesn’t feel like enough.