Thursday, September 16, 2010

NO BIG HAIR!

Having observed the march of reunion concerts and annual Broadway show-like tours for another generation's bands--hey, it's REO Speedwagon and Fleetwood Mac in some iteration again--I've viewed them from a mostly negative perspective. Look at the cheap cash-in efforts and uninspired playing of the same old hits every summer.

I actually saw some of these shows the summer I worked part-time at an amphitheater and simply didn't get the appeal even if you liked the artists. Granted, all of them hadn't done anything of note in ages, which made it seem all the more pointless. This was driven home by seeing Poison in consecutive years. (You better believe I didn't pay either time. For what it's worth, Cinderella impressed me with their chops.)

So there I was tonight at the Pavement reunion concert. I purchased a ticket as soon as they went on sale, and I was looking forward to this show quite a bit. I never saw them during the '90s when they were one of the most influential band in the lo-fi and indie realms, and this was a reunion that I don't think many anticipated. Of course, that tends to be the way it goes with these things. It'll never happen...until the financial rewards are calculated.

Granted, we're talking different levels here. Pavement is a seminal act, and like such groups, their popularity was basically confined to the musical underground. And no wonder. With ambiguous but verbally witty lyrics, guitars and vocals that sometimes sounded like they were out of tune, and a generally offhanded vibe verging on sloppy, they were too rough around the edges to breakthrough. I suspect they are playing the biggest rooms in their career on this reunion tour, which is testament to their influence and the regard with which their albums still have, but we're still talking about venues that can pack in 1500-2000 people.

Anyway, to get back to my point, I gave in to nostalgia and made sure that I'd be at this concert. I'll be doing the same thing in a month when the reunited "classic lineup" of Guided by Voices comes to town. I justify it because, well, I really wanted to see them and because these are bands that never were that big beyond a small but dedicated audience. It may seem pathetic if they keep coming through year after year with nothing new to offer or nothing new that's any good, but for groups whose shadows have only become longer in the intervening years, it seems respectable and right that they take victory laps now.

Pavement has a mixed reputation as a live act, but they were pretty terrific tonight. They played many of their most beloved songs--it's hard to call them hits--and plenty of other unconventional choices. It didn't feel like a performance meant to resuscitate their former days as indie rock heroes but a genuinely worthy and engaged playing of their catalog. Pavement didn't appear to be going through the motions of yesteryear, and I didn't feel like I was reliving my time in college. Nevertheless, hearing "Range Life" gave me the chills. Other favorites--"Stereo", "Cut Your Hair", and "Summer Babe (Winter Version)", among others--sounded as fresh as they did during my twenties. Undoubtedly nostalgia colored my enjoyment, but I'd prefer to think that is was merely an enhancement than the primary object.

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