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Pop Music Review

Malkmus Finds His Own Turf After Pavement

March 16, 2001|MARC WEINGARTEN

For a band that always negotiated the razor's edge between brilliance and entropy, the now-defunct Pavement left much to be desired as a live act. Leader Stephen Malkmus' songs relied on nuance and casual yet focused interplay to work properly, and the band too readily resorted to collegiate tomfoolery when things didn't pan out.

What a relief, then, to see Malkmus get his groove on as a solo act. For his sold-out show at the El Rey Theatre on Tuesday, the erstwhile Pavement mastermind seemed liberated by his newfound freedom and unburdened by expectations. The material on Malkmus' first post-Pavement album is more inviting, if no less thematically opaque, than some of his past work. With their cheery, singsong refrains and expansive arrangements, they were pop songs filtered through the mind of a recondite trickster.

The Alaskan travelogue "Phantasies" chugged along like a throwback to '80s new wave, while "Jo Jo's Jacket" paid cheeky homage to Yul Brynner. Malkmus' ballads flowed gently, but they hid astringent lyrics in their silky folds. Even such blatant lifts as "The Hook," which nicks the riff from Lee Michaels' '70s hit "Do You Know What I Mean?," flashed their thievery amiably. The Portland-based singer's band the Jicks was forceful and restrained in all the right places, giving Malkmus lots of musical latitude for his playful digressions.

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