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Jicks front man Stephen Malkmus focuses during a guitar solo at Paradise Rock Club on Thursday, April 3.
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Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks

The Fillmore at the TLA, Paradise Rock Club and Mass MoCA

Saturday, March 29, Thursday, April 3, and Friday, April 4, 2008

Disregarding the aching belly of my slim wallet, I shelled out to see Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks three times on their North American tour (well, okay, one night was compensated, but still). Had all three New York dates not sold out almost instantly, I’d probably have bought tickets for them, too. Did I do it out of fanaticism? For the sake of x-treme journalism? Or did I just have nothing better to do with my time? Regardless of motives, I got to catch three great concerts, each one markedly different from the last despite the unavoidable similarities.

At the start of every show, the audience shouted requests before the group had even reached their instruments. Though many shouted for Jicks singles “Jenny & The Ess-dog” and “(Do Not Feed The) Oyster,” there were just as many cries for Pavement tunes. That second brand of request was never honored, and why should it have been? Almost a decade has passed since the lights dimmed on Pavement, and Malkmus has released almost as many albums with the Jicks (four, if you count Face the Truth) as he ever did with Pavement (five). The group has more than enough material to draw from without dipping into the catalog of their front man’s old band.

And since Malkmus is now much more interested in eternal guitar soloing than singing (see Tech article “SM & Jicks Make Art Out of ‘Trash’”), it was tough enough to cram in the jammy Jicks’ repertoire into the setlist. Though each night revolved around tracks from new album Real Emotional Trash, the band also played different songs from past albums, including the endearingly cheesy “Vanessa From Queens” and the unstoppably rollicking “Baby C’mon.” They also did a cover each night; in Philly, Malkmus approximated The Beatles’ “Taxman”; at Paradise, Fear’s “I Don’t Care About You”; at Mass MoCA, Tanya Tucker’s “Can’t Run From Yourself.”

The biggest variations from show to show had to do with band dynamics. In Philly, Malkmus (for all his guitar proficiency) was consistently out of tune; “Cold Son” was downright unbearable. Perhaps this is the reason why bassist Joanna Bolme wore such a sour face all night, or maybe it had to do with the fact that she kept messing up (which drummer Janet Weiss made fun of her for). Either way, no one on stage seemed very happy except keyboardist/guitarist Mike Clark, who posed and played energetically throughout the set.

Mass MoCA’s spacey layout and excellent acoustics generated a more laid back attitude; Malkmus stopped after the intro of “Water and a Seat” to tune, which built suspense rather than detracted from performance, and the group playfully riffed long past songs’ prescribed endings. The set was also loose, as audiences have come to expect from Malkmus, and stood in stark contrast to musically tight (but also excellent) opener John Vanderslice.

The best by far of the three dates, however, was the sold-out show at Paradise. Each of Weiss’ drum fills was crisp and forceful, Bolme kidded with the audience about the lack of pot (“I smell no weed at this show at all. What’s wrong with you?”), and Malkmus’ perfectly in tune guitars transformed even the most tame album tracks into epic jams. And for those local fans curious to hear Malkmus’ views on their home city, he had this to say during the show: “Boston? It’s a nice street … a real nice street.”