Great Expectations 2010: Pavement

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A decade after dissolving, the definitive indie-rock band announces 2010’s most anticipated reunion. But let’s not get too excited, OK?

Stephen Malkmus—the Artist Formerly Known as S.M. in his days fronting ’90s indie-rock darlings Pavement—has spent the last decade starting a family, fashioning a solo career with his band the Jicks, blending into Oregon’s lush scenery and gradually becoming the Bill Belichick of the alt-rock world, answering direct questions about his old group’s plans as if parsing the weekly injury list for the smallest particle of data that would still qualify as a plausible answer.

“People come up to us after shows saying ‘Will you do it?’ or wanting to talk about it,” Malkmus once told me over afternoon drinks in Portland, “but it’s not like I feel I’m being dismissed because of what I used to do. We could tell [our publicist] ‘no Pavement questions’ but it would only make interviewers more excited about it.”

Which makes the band’s recently announced reunion shows all the more tantalizing: After selling out all four of its September 2010 Central Park SummerStage shows a year in advance (the earliest such shows have ever been offered for sale, much less sold-out), the band’s classic lineup of Malkmus, guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg, bassist/new Sonic Youth member Mark Ibold, percussionist Bob Nastanovich and drummer Steve West have confirmed they’ll headline the Sasquatch! festival on Memorial Day weekend in Washington state, and play and curate an All Tomorrow’s Parties weekender that same month at Butlin’s Holiday Centre in Minehead U.K., with other global locations to be announced. It’s enough to get the lo-fi quintet’s obsessive followers breathing heavily, even if the Pavement camp was equally quick to pour cold water over the affair by advising fans that “this tour is not a prelude to additional jaunts and/or a permanent reunion.”

“There were rumors swirling around for two to three years that were completely unprovoked,” says David Viecelli, the band’s longtime agent. “Especially after Bob’s wedding in Nashville, when four of the five guys were onstage together. It’s not like there was any acrimony amongst them,” he insists—indeed, Malkmus has often mentioned his former bandmates and their shared passion for online fantasy basketball, making clear they were all still friendly with one another —“but it needed to be organic. Stephen, in particular, didn’t want Pavement to just be another band that gets together, trying to get every last dollar we could. It was most important that this be the best live version of Pavement ever to play.”

Even the band members themselves seem somewhat stunned at the ease and rapidity with which the reunion finally came together, a decade after the band’s final show at London’s Brixton Academy, in which Malkmus pointed to a pair of handcuffs attached to his mic stand and told the audience, “These symbolize what it’s like being in a band all these years.” At its best, Pavement played shambling melodic post-punk with every edge frayed. By the end, the band itself was a shambles.

“A bunch of time went by, and everyone did their own thing,” says co-founder Kannberg. “It’s gonna be a lot easier for everyone now. We had no idea it would turn into all this—it was more like ‘let’s do a few shows.’ But the sell-outs—it’s obvious we could’ve done another four, easily. It’s just crazy. The biggest show we ever played was in London, and that was only because people knew it was our last show! Otherwise, we were just trudging along, trying to make some good records and some money. And I think we just hit the wall. But 10 years does a lot. New people come into the equation, start buying your records, people get older, and I guess have more money too, probably. And then the Internet has made everything a completely different animal.”

The band has already begun planning rehearsals—to begin in Portland this February—in anticipation of whatever shape the reunion tour may take. But whether reviving such sacred indie texts as Slanted and Enchanted, dashing through multiple sets of Pavement’s greatest near-misses with the mainstream, or even writing new material, it’s clear that a return to those gold soundz is neither a crisis nor a boring change (as the band once sang), but a central component of 2010’s year in rock.

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