Friday, October 01, 2010

A Conversation On Pavement

Recorded the night of 19 September, immediately following the Boston stop of their reunion tour.

Tim: So, first impressions.

Violet: The weirdest part is realizing that the last time I saw Pavement I was in high school - during the Brighten the Corners tour - and the tickets cost eleven dollars each. I remember Stephen Malkmus walking literally inches away from me to get on stage, which was much smaller than the one tonight. The crowd was much smaller too.

Tim: So it was weird seeing them pack an arena.

Violet: Yeah, really pack an arena, too. I think that's the weirdest part of all - at some point during the show I realized that this band I loved and cherished was really popular with a lot of people. I had my hipster "delusion" that I was unique - but I wasn't even on the first bandwagon out of Pavement city. I saw them the first time when they were on tour for their second-to-last album! In my mind Pavement was this little hidden gem that only a certain amount of people knew about, and to see an arena in Boston filled with people that apparently like Pavement too, even though that's completely absurd because it was never really the case that they weren't popular . . . I was just delusional. It's weird to think of how much has changed. It's weird because I used to think they were just so cool - the coolest thing short of the Velvet Underground. There was nothing cooler than Pavement. But to see them now - and we were having a goddamn sing-along to all the songs tonight . . . It totally shatters their indie-rock god status that they are having arena shows where everyone sings their greatest hits. it's like seeing a fucking Aerosmith show.

Tim: If tonight's show proved anything, it's that Pavement is not above getting paid. I should clarify - that sounds bad, but I didn't mean it as particularly bad.

Violet: I'm not against them getting paid, but I am against them getting $10 for a goddamn tour booklet that is essentially a cheap discography, printed in Iceland no less - I guess that's why it's printed in Iceland, so they can ream us. They have to keep Spiral Stairs in those weird golf hats he wears.

Tim: Well, that's on me, because I saw the booklet and though it looked cool and told you to buy it.

Violet: But that's the beauty of this tour - that's what I liked about it. It was just this big boisterous commercial greatest hits thing, just complete bullshit. I remember going to indie rock shows - like the Pavement show I saw in high school - and not being able to sing-along, even though I desperately wanted to. I knew all the words then even better than I do now because I was listening to Pavement all the time. But that just wasn't kosher to do at an indie show. You had to have this sort of . . . staid detachment, which involved maybe bobbing your head when the band hit a crescendo. That was never my personality, I was never cool enough for the indie kids. So now it's cool to see the coolest of the cool turn into an over-the-top reunion band. When I saw them in high school I wanted to sing along to all the words - but now I'm old enough, and Pavement is old enough, that it doesn't matter. Except for the teenyboppers no one was really trying to look cool. You can't look cool in an arena to begin with - it's impossible. But it was kind of refreshing because that was how I actually felt about Pavement all this time, but you just didn't do that at a small indie show, you didn't just sing along with everything or you'd probably be removed from the building. Even though the first time I saw Pavement was in a much more intimate venue, oddly enough it felt more intimate tonight because I felt like I didn't need to put on any indie airs. But that may just be me getting older and not giving a crap anymore.

Tim: I don't think you were the only person there for whom that applied. It seemed like there were a large number of people who were maybe hip scenesters fifteen or twenty years ago, but were coming to the show now as investment bankers or IT professionals letting their hair down before they had to go back to work on Monday.

Violet: That's true. I think you and I were midrange - we weren't the oldest peole there, we weren't the youngest. I think a lot of the older people weren't trying hard to put on the hipster airs anymore. I will admit I engaged in a little bit of dick swinging by broadcasting the fact that i knew all the words to all the songs. So I guess that's still ever-present.

Tim: You even knew the words that Stephen Malkmus forgot.

Violet: Yes, I think that was the case for a lot of people. I don't think he cares is the thing. He never cared in the past and I don't think he does now. He even tried to screw with us by messing with the tempo on "Cut Your Hair," just to get back at us for knowing the lyrics better than he did.

Tim: He has a very passive-aggressive stage presence.

Violet: I wouldn't say it was passive-aggressive - it's his schtick, his "butter-wouldn't-melt-Malkmus", I don't care but I do.

Tim: It was especially noticeable since everyone else on stage was really having the time of their lives.

Violet: I think you know the answer to that - he still tours a lot more than the rest of them, regardless of their side projects, so it's still a big deal for them. Even if he has mellowed a bit from his indie rock god heights, he's always going to have that aloof . . . that may actually be his personality, or maybe after doing it for so many years it has become his personality, I don't know. I don't know the man personally. Obviously. Or I wouldn't be with you.

Tim: I was surprised - and maybe this is just me not knowing as much about Pavement as you do - but I was still surprised that Stephen Malkmus was such a good guitar player. I didn't really know that.

Violet: Again, that goes back to their "we care but we don't care" lackadaisical whatever. They are skilled but they want to pretend that they're not. Sometimes it's hard to tell which one is reality, because sometimes they don't act like they're terribly skilled even now, but they are.

Tim: I wasn't trying to say that I didn't think they were talented, but on record, they really went out of their way to keep that kind of virtuosity - for lack of a better word - fairly well obscured. Even on the later albums, for the most part.

Violet: Their final album [1999's Terror Twilight], even you admit, is pretty tight. This goes back to the conversation we had a few days ago, when I was talking about how at the time I listened to so much lo-fi indie rock that I didn't realize it sounded odd compared to other music. It sounded normal to me!

Tim: Well, coming from my perspective, the first few times I ever heard anything remotely resembling lo-fi - and I'm not even trying to say that Pavement were lo-fi (except obvioulsly for their earliest singles) - it really freaked me out because it sounded like the people had just forgot to finish making the record, like it wasn't done, and I shouldn't be hearing it yet. It took me a while to realize for most of those bands that that was the point. And I can and do appreciate it now, but the idea of a very studied imperfection still seems exotic to me.

Violet: I don't know how much of that is studied - i think sometimes they do genuinely fuck it up and they just don't bother trying to hide it.

Tim: I think as far as that goes, the show was tighter than I might have expected based on their reputation. But there were still a couple moments - like, "Spit on a Stranger," during which they basically kept screwing up throughout the whole song.

Violet: How many arena rock bands do that? it's kind of amusing.

Tim: At least they didn't have giant plastic lemons or glass spiders to have to crawl around in.

Violet: That's actually unfortunate.

Tim: So was it weird to see people at the show who were probably in kindergarten or even younger when the band released their last album?

Violet: Yeah, it was a little bit weird, if only for the fact that it reminds me that i'm not 22 anymore, which I sometimes forget. But I think that was the magic of this evening - it wasn't really for young hipster kids, regardless of how cool they think they are, it was for me and the middle aged bankers who knew all the words and just don't care anymore. For one night, we ruled.

Tim: You were through being cool, as they say.

Violet: To reiterate: I was never cool, I was never a successful indie kid, I just happened to like all of that music. But I'm definitely old enough to realize it really doesn't matter.

Tim: There was still a sizeable contingent of young people who looked like they might have discovered Pavement for the first time because Pitchfork gave them a good review for one of the reissues. And they were just too cool for school, almost as if they had mistakenly wandered off the street thinking this was a Vampire Weekend show.

Violet: I really can't cast aspersions on those kids because, as I've said, it's not as if I was right there in Stockton when the band first formed and the first songs were being written. I didn't have Pitchfork at the time, I would go through SPIN magazine and pick out the critically acclaimed music and listen to it. So I basically did the same thing that they do now. I know, gasp, I didn't just figure out about Pavement through some hipster underground railroad. I read about them in SPIN, big shock.

Tim: And you give me shit for still subscribing to SPIN!

Violet: Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free online? See, back in the day, you didn't have the internet. If you wanted to hear something you had to go and buy it, so I definitely had a lot of critically acclaimed music I absolutely hated.

Tim: I still have a Lucinda Williams CD I got because it received 4 1/2 stars in Rolling Stone, but it's the most boring bullshit in the universe. But anyway, back on topic - were you disappointed about anything?

Violet: Not really. I was surprised they actually pulled out a few songs from Watery, Domestic, which I wasn't expecting, although not my favorite - "Texas Never Whispers." Then again, that sonic dissonance in the intro would probably be kind of inappropriate.

Tim: It basically sounds like Crystal Castles or Sleigh Bells. That whole dissonance thing is "in" in a big way with the kids now.

Violet: Yeah, but Pavement is obviously . . . I can't even believe it, you always chide me for living in another era, music-wise, but I guess i finally realize that Pavement isn't the coolest thing anymore. I can't just say I listen to Pavement and have it mean anything.

Tim: You mean to say, if you want to be cool from here on out, you might actually need to put some effort into it instead of just picking up crumbs from what I listen to.

Violet: From what I learned tonight, if any of these new bands actually achieve the longevity Pavement have, they're going to become arena bands at some point. So I shouldn't even bother, because everything cool becomes uncool.

Tim: That's not entirely true. Yo La Tengo have all sorts of longevity and they never traded in one iota of cool.

Violet: That's because Yo La Tengo is just the best band ever. I love them and they are magic little magical Hoboken elves.

Tim: Well, they're no Buffalo Tom.

Violet: Oh my god, this is the most meandering thing. If anyone actually reads all of this it's probably because they've lost the ability to close their browser.

Tim: I wouldn't worry about that, no one reads my blog anyway except when I say stupid things about Spider-Man. So: to get back to the matter at hand, you actually sort of dug the blatantly commercial atttitude - the whole, "yeah, we know you know we're doing this because we have mortgages - or at least, four out of five of us have mortgages that need paying and racehorses that need feeding."

Violet: I don't even know if he [Bob Nastanovich] does that anymore, you might want to fact check that one, cuz. [EDIT: As of 09/30 he still works with and owns thoroughbred racehorses.]

Tim: The point still stands - it was obviously a victory lap intended to get massive paydays for people who might feel that they had not previously been reimbursed in a manner directly proportional to their influence and critical acclaim. Maybe they weren't an arena band in 1999, but they are now, and they're enjoying every minute of the fact that they're basically untouchable. At this point in time they have never been more relevent or influential. It seems like all the kids who grew up listening to Pavement went out and started bands that sound similar to Pavement - or at least come from similar points of departure - and in the last couple years all these little bands have sprouted, and the sound is everywhere. That alone has to be a little surreal for them. I think it's probably the exact same thought process that occurred with the Pixies, when - even though they still don't necessarily like each other all that much - they wanted to get in on the fact that so many other groups had become millionaires by biting their style wholesale. Same thing applies here, I think.

Violet: I agree completely. I can't speak for the Pixies, but in terms of Pavement I'm happy they're not trying to pretend. I prefer the honest approach that they're trying to make money. If they were trying to pretend that this was some kind of fun romp with no consequences, no one would believe it, so they at least have the decency not to completely bullshit us. Honestly, I don't even know that much about indie music anymore - it's not even called indie music, that's one of my hang-ups from olden times - but back then, and even before me, being in an indie band was . . . you made money, but it wasn't talked about. Indie bands now, they may not necessarily be making more money, but they're not so shy about making money, about considering it a career. it's not smoke and mirrors anymore. They're still independent, but making money is no longer some dirty little secret.

Tim: I definitely get the feeling from some of the larger indie franchises now - and I mean groups that I really like, such as Spoon or the National or maybe now even Animal Collective - that these people are making a lot of money, even despite the collapse of the music industry. They've all got fanbases that come out to see them and pack clubs and medium-sized venues, and they all have brokers that squirrel their money away, and they get paid lots of money to do private corporate events or tour sponsorships or museum installations. They just seem to be more shrewd than groups were even just ten years ago.

Violet: It might not even be that they're more shrewd, just that it's a more accepting environment. The whole realm of the "indie cred thing." where you had to pretend that you were doing it just for the love of the craft - not to say that people weren't doing it for love - but it was a nasty little secret that you were doing this to make a living as well. I don't know if it's a good thing, the change, or a bad thing - but it always seemed disingenuous to pretend otherwise, ridiculous. Bands now - it's better in a way, less pretentious. There's still enough pretension to be had in the world of music fandom, but that's one less cross to bear, that dichotomy between obviously being a consumer, buying and listening to consumerized product, but then having to pretend that it's not. Back in the day you had to pretend that you were paying for it but not talk about it, like a prostitute - you didn't need to know the dirty details of the transaction. Not that I know what getting a prostitute is like.

Tim: I think there were enough bands who bought into the anti-money ethos, who subsequently ended up getting hurt and burnt out by the business.

Violet: I totally agree with that. It's for the best, because it really was kind of a ridiculous delusion anyhow. You're not just touring across the country out of the goodness of your heart.

Tim: That's why back in the 90s it seemed like there was a huge dichotomy between all the bands who were making money on the radio with the quote-unquote "alternative sound," and the bands who originated those sounds who were essentially still working their day jobs in Milwaukee or Phoenix or whatever. And I'd be pissed too if, I dunno, Weezer came out and sold millions of records on the back of a style I pioneered, or whatever.

Violet: In the end, Pavement know where they've been and where they're going, and what they're doing. It was mostly a reality check for me, to realize that it's been ten years since they broke up.

Tim: That's a lot of water under the overpass. But you saying that - do you think Pavement has a future, based on what you saw tonight, or is this going to be it - more nostalgia perhaps, but nothing new?

Violet: I don't know. Besides having listened to their records more than is probably recommended by the surgeon general, I don't have any line on what they think. I do think it'll be stupid if they do this again in 20 years - like, wheel Gary Young out on life support.

Tim: I guess it was inevitable, though, since both the Smashing Pumpkins and the Stone Temple Pilots have reuinted within the last year. Now the circle is complete.

Violet: And all the varying degrees of coolness have been leveled out by age.

Tim: I look forward to hanging outside the arena twenty years from now when all the yuppies are coming out of the Vampire Weekend reunion sell-out tour.

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