Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

On a night when ball-shrinking coldness gripped the southland, one backward railroad town on the edge of the Inland Empire kept the faithful warm. That was when Pomona’s venerable but haplessly off-the-beaten-path Glass House played host to eternal slack godhead Stephen Malkmus and his merry band of Jicks. And on an evening when a $17 ticket might have been well-spent just to get shelter from the frigid conditions, Malkmus put on a memorable show that highlighted his rapidly proggifying band’s technical skills as much as his own quirky songwriting chops.

Kicking off the set with an electrifyingly joyous version of “Baby C’mon” from 2005’s Face the Truth and the semi-classic “Jojo’s Jacket,” Malkmus then shifted into unexplored terrain. From that point, more than half of the performance was comprised of unheard new material, long on expressive, noodly guitar jams and space rock overtures from Mike Clark’s synth. Although some expected heel-cooling occurred, the crowd graciously received each new song, with titles like “Dragonfly Pie,” “Pennywhistle Thunder” and “Hopscotch Willie.”

Even before the music started, the first thing everyone noticed was Malkmus’ new look—a thin Dick Dastardly mustache—which elicited catcalls from several dudes in the audience. “But never the chicks,” he lamented. However, even more exciting than the addition of WWI-era facial hair was newly anointed Jick and ex-Sleater Kinney drummer Janet Weiss. Aside from providing great backing vocals, Weiss supplied a percussive heft that Malkmus probably hasn’t really felt since the salad days of Gary Young.

The unusually intimate setting led to some moments of welcome weirdness, like when Clark and bassist Joanna Bolme excused themselves from the stage for a pee break. Malkmus picked up the bass guitar and launched into a weirdly aggressive new song accompanied only by Weiss’ rhythmic pounding and—presumably after finishing her business—squalls of guitar noise from Bolme.

Before trading the Glass House’s toasty confines for a mad scramble across the arctic parking lot, a few thoughts summing up the concert flitted across this writer’s mind: Weiss’ presence, Malkmus’ bizarre and ambitious new collection of songs and the Jicks’ overall enthusiasm bode well for the future of music. In Stephen we trust.

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