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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Concert Review: Malkmus, Jicks all About the Chick with the Sticks at Bowery Ballroom

Review by Noah Mallin

Standing at the t-shirt booth and checking out the road wares at the Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks show at the Bowery ballroom in New York last night, a swaying gentleman in a blazer and t-shirt breaks away from an intense negotiation with the fellow behind the table to swivel his head in my direction.

"Hey..." he says to me as his eyes focus behind his glasses, "I'll buy you two shots of tequila at the bar if you buy me a t-shirt. All I have is a credit card." I look at the placid guy working the shirt stand -- he's seen it all before. He shrugs his shoulders," Cash only..." So it's going to be that kind of a show.

Upstairs the band is clearly having monitor issues. Bassist Joanna Bolme keeps gesturing to the mixer to turn up her bass. Every time she waves her arms the guy behind me intones, "Gawd she's hot."

To be fair, the whole band is hot in every sense of the word: Sweaty in the humid funk of the sold out club, attractive sure, and blazing musically. Bolme has always been a sharp bass player, anchoring Malkmus' twisty-turny songs. Malkmus himself is an ace guitarist changing tones from Allman-like lilting runs to heavy distorto sheets within a single tune, his voice squawking and cooing like dyspeptic songbird. Mike Clark hops around from guitar to keyboards seamlessly, his silver lame flashing.

The real deal last night was the newest member of The Jicks, drummer Janet Weiss. Weiss was the powerhouse behind the late Sleater-Kinney's crunch and the whomping swing of the band Quasi which she formed with her ex-husband. Her unerring timing, Bonham-like attack, and turn-on-a-dime tempo shifts have freed Malkmus into even wilder guitar runs -- The Jicks are finally the jam band of his dreams.

There's a cry from the crowd for "Box Elder," a song by Malkmus' original band Pavement. Malkmus murmurs a succinct "No." into the mic. Though Pavement began to take a more expansive view of 60's rock archetypes as they soldiered on before splitting at the end of the 90s, it would have been hard to imagine them as the liquidy groovesters the Jicks were last night. A whole room full of achingly hip indie kidults were doing the deadhead shuffle-sway dance thing as jazzy riffs rang out from the guitar and the rhythm section locked in while Clark did a Ray Manzarek impression behind the keys. Yet, just when you think you have the band pegged as hippie revivalists they switch it up with a cover of hardcore band Fear's "I Don't Care About You."

Most of the set was made up of new songs from Real Emotional Trash with nary a peep from Malkmus' poppy first solo record. Highlights included a sweaty workout on "Baltimore", a plaintive version of "Baby C'Mon" from the last album and a wrung out full-on Woodstock take on "Hopscotch Willie."

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