It’s been over 30 years since the release of their debut album, 24 since the release of their most recent, and 13 years since their last shows in Australia. So how is Pavement’s return to Brisbane going to go down on a Tuesday evening in Fortitude Valley?
First up is Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever. They are a seriously bloody good band, and are having a “good Tuesday”, says singer-guitarist Tom Russo, having been plucked out of their Melbourne hometown to play warmer climes up north.
The quintet’s eight-song set is a gloriously sunny collection of Australian indie-rock of the highest order, with highlights ‘Mainland’ and ‘Talking Straight’ sounding perfect for a balmy mid-week evening and closer ‘French Press’ finishing in a long and stylish jam not unlike something you might hear at a War on Drugs gig.
With almost no fanfare from band or audience, almost as if they are unsure of what to make of each other after so long apart, Pavement take to the stage and begin what turns out to be a somewhat sprawling, at times chaotic, and at times discordant set from across the Californian quintet’s relatively short recording career – and they do it while seemingly enjoying each other’s company at the same time.
‘Spit on a Stranger’ passes by without any real reaction from the as-yet unsure audience, unlike ‘Harness Your Hopes’. “We first played here in ’93. It’s good to be back. This song is from that era,” is the introduction to ‘Angel Carer Blues/Mellow Jazz Docent’, but it’s during ‘Stereo’ that it truly feels like singer-guitarist Stephen Malkmus and his crowd are relaxing into the evening, and each other, although there is an ominous feeling that the set may have peaked with less than 15 minutes gone.
Thankfully ‘Gold Soundz’ provides another predictable peak a few songs later, as does the reverberating melancholy of the chorus of ‘Range Life’. ‘Conduit for Sale!’, ‘Major Leagues’ and ‘Cut Your Hair’ also feature late-on in a 25-song set that bounces around like an off-kilter pinball.
Among the handful of highlights, the evening threatens to fall apart at any moment, set to the sound of unintelligible drivel backed by a band of the standard of your average high school talent show act thrashing at their respective instruments while simultaneously and somewhat pathetically rooting around in a skip bin filled with metal cans.
Is a Pavement show in 2023 the sound of a band being intentionally oblique? Possibly. Is the wonkiness still a major part of the appeal? Probably. Is it at times painfully tedious? Absolutely.