Pavement raises sloppy to an art form at first SummerStage show in New York

It takes a deceptive amount of skill to play music with the ramshackle tightness of Pavement.

As you’d expect, the band was sloppy Tuesday night at Rumsey Field in New York’s Central Park, the first of four SummerStage shows. But Pavement was sloppy with purpose — the band carefully cultivated that shambolic aesthetic during its initial 10-year run from 1989-99, and it remains gloriously intact for this year’s in-it-for-the-money reunion tour.

And really, is there any doubt that Pavement (or singer Stephen Malkmus, at least) is in it for the money? Although the quintet played a generous two-hour, 28-song set, Malkmus didn’t seem particularly engaged until the latter portion of the show, which may have had something to do with the fact that he stood on the far stage-right side, away from his band mates. In fact, most of the time, he seemed bemused by all the fuss over a bunch of songs from, in some cases, 20 years ago. And there was fuss — the first Central Park concert was said to have sold out in just 2 minutes when it went on sale a full year ago.

“Thanks for not losing your tickets. Or selling them,” Malkmus quipped at one point.

Still, the show was a persuasive reminder of why Pavement was so influential in the first place. The musicians played together with casual ease on songs full of churning guitars and Malkmus’ off-handed vocals. Malkmus’s dissonant guitar solo on “Fin” came without regard for whether the notes fell in the proper key, and he and guitarist Scott Kannberg shifted in and out of unison on “Elevate Me Later.”

Percussionist Bob Nastanovich shouted out lead vocals on the chorus of “Debris Slide” and noisy stabs of guitars and squelching electronics poked through Malmus’ sing-songy vocals on “Stereo.”

“That was pretty good, I like that,” the singer said after finishing the song. “Way to go, Pavement!”

Malkmus started to come alive toward the end of the main set, praising a jangling, surprisingly together version of “Range Life” (“That was a good version,” he said. “I’ve heard them all.”), and jumping up and down not quite in time with the beat as he played a guitar solo on Pavement’s near-hit, “Cut Your Hair.”

After ending the main set with the breezy rocker, the band returned for a six-song encore that included cacophonous roiling (and shouting) on “Conduit for Sale!” and gluey guitar on “Silence Kit,” before the band finished the show with “Stop Breathin’.”

— Eric R. Danton

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