Some American Indie to take us into Friday, by way of Pavement. From a concert given at The Brixton Academy in London on December 14, 1992.
In case you forgot: Pavement was an American indie rock band that formed in Stockton, California in 1989. The group mainly consisted of Stephen Malkmus (vocals and guitar), Scott Kannberg (guitar and vocals), Mark Ibold (bass), Steve West (drums) and Bob Nastanovich (percussion and vocals). Initially conceived as a recording project, the band at first avoided press or live performances, while attracting considerable underground attention with their early releases. Gradually evolving into a more polished band, Pavement recorded five full-length albums and nine EPs over the course of their decade-long career, though they disbanded with some acrimony in 1999 as the members moved on to other projects. In 2010, they undertook a well-received reunion tour. Though only briefly brushing the mainstream with the single “Cut Your Hair” in 1994, Pavement was a successful indie rock band. Rather than signing with a major label as many of their 1980s forebears had done, they remained signed to independent labels throughout their career and have often been described as one of the most influential bands to emerge from the American underground in the ’90s. Some prominent music critics, such as Robert Christgau and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, went so far as to call them the best band of the 1990s. In their career, they also achieved a significant cult following.
Pavement formed as a studio project of guitarists and vocalists Stephen Malkmus & Scott Kannberg, known originally only as “S.M.” and “Spiral Stairs”. Their debut EPs were extremely lo-fi releases titled Slay Tracks (1933-1969), Demolition Plot J-7, and Perfect Sound Forever. They were recorded at Louder Than You Think, the home studio of Stockton local and former hippie Gary Young who also played drums on the recordings. Upon first hearing the duo’s songs, Young was quoted as saying, “this Malkmus idiot is a complete songwriting genius.”
Pavement’s most obvious influence during this time was English rock band The Fall, although Kannberg stated in a 1992 interview that he preferred The Replacements. The Fall’s Mark E. Smith claimed that Pavement were a “rip-off” of his band and that they didn’t “have an original idea in their heads”, although other members of The Fall have been more positive about the band.
After the release of Slay Tracks, a new drummer, Jason Turner, was drafted to replace Young both live and in the studio. However, after just one tour and a handful of recording sessions, when it became apparent that the percussionist and Malkmus did not get along well, Turner was ousted and Young reinstated. Malkmus later described Turner as “this depressed guy who might assassinate me one day… He’s very competitive.” Around the same time, Bob Nastanovich was incorporated into the live Pavement band as an auxiliary percussionist. Malkmus had been roommates with Nastanovich in New York City, and had told him, “You could be our drummer if we ever played.”
Around 1992 Pavement became a full-time band, with the addition of bassist Mark Ibold, who had been one of the band’s earliest fans, with Malkmus, Kannberg, Young and Nastanovich rounding out the lineup. Their debut album, Slanted and Enchanted, was released commercially in 1992 after copies had been circulated on cassette tape for nearly a year. Though the percussive influence of The Fall was still pervasive, as was that of English post-punk band Swell Maps, many of the songs also exhibited a strong sense of melody. Later the same year, the band released the EP Watery, Domestic.
Pavement embarked on a six-month world tour in support of the album, during which time relationships within the group frayed, especially between Malkmus and the other members of the band. Steve West later recalled times on the tour bus where Malkmus would put his coat over his head, refuse to speak to anyone, and call himself “The Little Bitch”. Critics noted that their setlist had started to include a number of their early songs, much like a band playing their greatest hits on a farewell tour. Malkmus’s attitude continued to deteriorate as the tour wore on, finally coming to a head during their slot at the 1999 Coachella Festival. During the concert, Malkmus refused (or possibly was unable, due to illness) to sing, effectively turning their set into a mostly instrumental one. Nastanovich called a band meeting after the show, and Malkmus finally confided to his bandmates: “I just don’t want to do this anymore.”
The group’s final concert together was at Brixton Academy in London on November 20, 1999 (not this one). During the concert, Malkmus had a pair of handcuffs attached to his microphone stand, and at one point told that audience, “These symbolize what it’s like being in a band all these years.” After the concert, he confirmed to people at the after-party that Pavement was now done “for the foreseeable future.” About two weeks later, a spokesperson for Domino records told NME: “Pavement are retiring for the foreseeable future to: 1. Start families 2. Sail around the world 3. Get into the computer industry 4. Dance 5. Get some attention.”
In the summer of 2000, Malkmus called Kannberg and told him, “You need to change the website to say we aren’t a band anymore. People keep asking me if we’re breaking up and you know we’re not a band anymore, right?” Kannberg told Malkmus that he needed to call the other members of the band to inform them that the band was finally breaking up, but Malkmus refused and Kannberg was left with the task of informing them. Steve West later admitted that he never received any official call about the breakup from anyone in the band, and discovered that Pavement had dissolved via the internet. Nastanovich later commented that “There was too much exhaustion for heavy emotion.”
That’s the background – so now you know. All you have to do now is, hit the play button and crank it up – the rest just happens.