The discrepancy between the renown of Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks and Malkmus’ Pavement remains chasmic, with the spattering of touts scuttling around outside The Forum at times unsure as to who’s even playing, anyway. Indeed, the venue isn’t quite sold out at any rate, in stark contrast to a 2010 Pavement-curated ATP that did so when only said band had been announced. Nonetheless, in the Jicks’ latest – this month’s Wig Out at Jagbags – they’ve irrefutably architected their finest to date.
It’s material from this record which the Jicks plunder pretty well to excess this evening, beginning with a slack and casual Lariat that, so fluid and soluble, essentially dissolves into the ensuing Planetary Motion. A giddying, stop-start glory, it sounds a very necessary tizzy already. The setlist’s more elderly statesmen, such as a superlative Cold Son and a lone Pavement slab in the somnolent, ambling form of Harness Your Hopes, prove Malkmus has always had plenty in the proverbial tank, Joanna Bolme, Mike Clark and Jake Morris adding proficiency, if perhaps a slight lack of character. However, tonight is all about Malkmus, and is more or less exclusively so: it’s he who commands such deference on behalf of a London audience that can tend to chatter by default, the irrefutable truth that this is Malkmus et al. made explicitly manifest by the band’s very moniker. And when seen in such intimate surrounds, and with this master of the slouchy lick in so conversational a mood, it’s pretty well impossible not to be taken in by his natural allure.
“Turn it up!” a heckler yodels, the cry piercing his in-ear monitors as he responds jovially, “Yeah, sometimes the sound’s not so good down the front – that’s why I put the photographers there.” There is, therefore, a rare jocularity to Stephen’s increasingly monosyllabic onstage mumblings – one to have matured over a career that now spans several decades. (The Jicks, lest we forget, have themselves been an active concern for around fourteen years.) And this goofy humour infects those more musical elements of the evening as well, reflected as it doubtless is in Malkmus’ effortlessly competent, if at times slightly wonky fretboard riffing. Located stage-right, thus saddled up alongside bassist Bolme and in the line of fire of Morris’ skew-whiff bass drum fusillades, you sense his proximity to the band’s rhythm section is wholly purposeful, so as to keep their supposed orchestrator in time and check likewise.
For the most part, he manages to maintain our attention, and does so most convincingly with a further few Jagbags wig outs: having swung by BBC Radio 6 Music for an exclusive session a little earlier on in the day, if he’s indeed been tripping his face off since breakfast, then it barely shows during a remarkably assured Cinnamon And Lesbians, the song gathering gusto as it rolls off the back of a typically windswept January afternoon. Its main refrain aptly piquant, so too the chunky Scattegories suggests Wig Out at Jagbags is only to get ever better with repeat exposure, the band visibly growing in confidence and stature as they build themselves up to a consummately sloppy J Smoov. Stripped of brass section, Malkmus instead provides an extempore solo that does little to dampen the eroticism inspired by lines such as that which describes “a race to the inside of your face” in squirmish detail. And, tonight strangely reminiscent of a forgotten Bill Withers B-side, it makes the day that bit lovelier in essence alone.
You do worry at times, however, that such unswerving reliance on a record some may not yet have found time to fully explore might alienate a number. Certainly, an unanticipated outing for caricatured solo track Jenny & the Ess-Dog fares rather better. “Jennifer dates a man in a ‘60s cover band” Malkmus begins, nonchalantly directing the multitude that bellow every word right back at him with flailing limbs and limp wrists, while an abridged rendition of Out of Reaches – lifted from deplorably undervalued ’08 effort Real Emotional Trash, that’s all stadium-primed solos and plush keyboard interludes – similarly inspires muffled sing-alongs that ripple softly throughout the stalls. Arguably, it’s this nostalgic ‘90s folly – or those that most closely recall all those seminal Pavement albums past – that garner greatest approval, and quiet opprobrium can be heard muttered under a breath or two during the evening’s most raggedy wig out, Shibboleth.
Although it’s a lyric from Out of Reaches which sticks, Malkmus’ reassuringly droll reiterating, “I know the tide will turn” adding gravitas to the inkling that this latest set will, sooner or later, enrapture way more hordes than it has already. The odd unprompted holler – “This one’s for you, granddad” being a more memorable one – intimates toward an immediate devotion felt toward it on behalf of a few, but as the venue slowly empties, you sense the Jicks might have misjudged this one slightly. “Senator would be appropriate for The Forum” jests Clark, but as they instead play a wheezy, Weezer-indebted Baby C’Mon, they evidently don’t deem it appropriate enough, as it’s tonight omitted completely.
Yet subjectively, and in spite of every ill-advised plea for Cut Your Hair, it’s that which is shaven from their latest which shines brightest. Because Jagbags is the place to be, to which Houston Hades attests – obliterative, bitty intro ’n’ all. Infinitely more wicked live, the lyric concerning “all you Slim Shadies” may cause some to recall a certain Brighten the Corners smash, but I’d go so far as to say it’s preferable to a summertime amble down Shady Lane anyway, profane and impious as that might sound to some. With its jangly ad jingle harmonies, it “falls apart” far too prematurely, as does a simmering, suitably befuddling Independence Street. An intoxicating stew of hi-fi sweetness, it functions as the perfect amuse-gueule for the Chartjunk to follow – one made that bit more slick by whopping, Grease-y, ditzy doo-doo harmonies to ensure you barely notice it’s missing the brassy fanfare to conclude its recorded counterpart. Malkmus, hunched over his mic in primarily gray attire – a conscious mid-tone take on Savages’ notorious monochrome, apparently – looks to be relishing the occasion to play so big a bulk of new material, and when it plays so well, few could realistically begrudge him the indulgence. Meanwhile, he’ll later deem London a “city that’s hard to get around”, effusively thanking those who’ve braved what are rather distressing weather conditions for doing so, and he’s been here enough times to now know. But few, if any of his visits have been so thoroughly beguiling as has been tonight.