Pavement Gets Real And Keeps It Simple

Thursday, 17 June 2010

It gets said a lot, but does time really heal all wounds? Over the last two years, it seems to be happening more and more often that bands who first found success in the fertile underground music scene of the 1980s and '90s have reconvened; the members of those bands having reconciled whatever differences they may have had or, at least, buried the hatchet deep enough that it's easier to work around. Many of those bands – including Dinosaur Jr., The Pixies, Alice In Chains, The Smashing Pumpkins and more – have gotten back together and even started producing new work for the first time in years. Some of it has been incredibly good work – there's no denying that – but there have also been occasions when the results of a reunited band have felt just calculated enough to cast the entire idea of 'artistic reformations' into question. Is that cynicism justified? Maybe, but Pavement has found a way to artfully dodge any slings and arrows that might be cast their way: the band is not making any promises that it isn't sure it can keep and they're being perfectly honest about the circumstances that led to their reconciliation. “Everybody in the band except for [singer/guitarist Steve] Malkmus was game to get back together and do it at any time,” says percussionist Bob Nastanovich candidly of the viewpoint from inside the reformed Pavement. “Even Mark [Pavement bassist Mark Ibold –ed], who's playing in Sonic Youth, had told me on a couple of occasions that he'd put down whatever he was doing including Sonic Youth to do Pavement tours. Scott [Kannberg, aka Spiral Stairs] has always wanted to do a reunion, and [drummer] Steve West is busy with two kids and a wife and he does a lot of hard labor in the form of stone masonry in the mountains of Virginia so I'm sure touring with Pavement is much easier on his body than what he usually does so he's always game, and I always really enjoyed touring and playing the songs so it was an easy decision for me to make. It was just a matter of Steven; he's a busy guy and he'd always say he'd be up for it if he could find time, but the time just never seemed to be there.

And then the turning point was reached: “Bosch Billions – the company that does our booking – was actually pretty key in convincing him that 2010 would be a good time to do it, being between Jicks albums and all,” continues Nastanovich. “Malkmus and the head of Bosch went out to dinner one night last summer and then they came here to Des Moines the next night and Steven asked me then if I'd be up for doing a Pavement tour. I work a lot with my other job but, I thought, 'You only get one opportunity to do anything like this, so of course you should.' So now we're locked in and we'll do it until the end of September – go wherever people are interested in having us that seems reasonable – and just play it out.”

It sounds unbelievable to hear any musician say it so simply and succinctly, but it is just as simple as that; no drama, no big deal, just a tour that goes around the world. Except it is a big deal because, as acrimonious as some band breakups have historically been, Pavement's went down in history as being particularly brutal and confusing (Malkmus refused to call the band and tell them he was dissolving the group) – but they're back – sort of; if only for this one tour. “One tour,” you ask? Yes, Pavement is taking it very slowly in what they're agreeing to and the bandmembers are all being realistic in what may or may not happen. Everyone within the group knows that, in the decade since Pavement's first dissolution, everyone's personal circumstances have changed and so they've elected to keep all goals short-term and with the focus placed on live shows. Further, according to Nastanovich, the design and layout of the shows and the setlists has been amicably arranged by the band so that every member of the band and the audiences can get exactly what they were hoping for every night. “We've always taken it pretty easy on ourselves – we certainly did in the Nineties – and when we were out on the road, we were usually touring in support of a specific record so we'd try to play all the songs on that album that basically didn't suck in a live setting,” explains the drummer of the difference between the band's previous working process versus how these current shows have been laid out. “Back then, we'd basically just play about seventy-five per cent of whatever the new album was at the time but, this time, we don't have a new record out so we had to re-think that.

“We got together in Portland, OR where Steven lives at the start of February and we picked about forty-five songs that we wanted to work with,” says Nastanovich of the fairly didactic process by which the set lists fell together for this tour. “Of that, we rehearsed about forty and we're playing about twenty-eight a night. I'm sure that, at some point, we'll probably add to that list of forty but that will probably involve rehearsing them during sound checks and, given that the average sound check in the history of the band is somewhere between seven and ten minutes, I think that's pretty unlikely. I'm pretty happy with the twenty-five to thirty that we pick and play per night though, and I think it works pretty well for getting people excited and into it – even the devotees that are going to see the band more than once. We did put some emphasis on the songs that we thought people would want to hear the most. Basically, we just got together in Portland, Scott came there with a list of about thirty songs that he wanted to play so we started practicing those to see how they'd work. Then we dropped a few of those and came up with about twenty more. Some of them have gone pretty well; I think we play some of them better now than we did in the Nineties, to be honest [chuckling]. We made sure to have a couple of extra songs in reserve so we'd have them ready to go when we'd need them; like when we played Brixton Academy in London four nights in a row and we knew there would be a portion of the crowd that would go to three or four shows so with the extra songs, we're able to mix the sets up a bit. I think that's a good thing, to be honest; I know I'd think it was pretty boring if I came out to support a band that I really liked a few times and they played the same thing every time I saw them, so I think people have been pretty happy of the slight variances that we've been doing per night.”

Now, anyone familiar with the background behind Pavement and the myths about the band will probably be in a state of shock and disbelief at how simply everything has come together for Pavement's reunion tour, and they'll likely have questions in regards to what such a reunion might mean for the future of the band. Common practice for alt-rock reunion shows has established itself as something of a formula; band dos a tour to get the feeling back for the music it left behind and, emboldened, the band tries to pick up right where they left off and starts writing new material for new records. According to Nastanovich, none of those possibilities have been discussed though, nor has anything of the sort even been considered; to hear the percussionist tell it, Pavement has kept things very simple for this reunion and is banking on precisely no follow-up action; it's simply a glorious adventure. “The only plans that we have right now are to play the thirty-five remaining shows that we have booked from now until October 1st,” says Nastanovich plainly, in a deliberate attempt to ensure that there's no confusion. “There's been talk already of playing a handful of South American shows in late October, but that's really been the only talk so far. Beyond what has already been scheduled – as far as playing or recording – there's been no formal discussion of that. I know Steven is currently working on the next Jicks album so he's probably pretty anxious to get back to work on that, and I think that most of us are really just looking at it as an eight-month adventure that ends in October and if there's any activity beyond that, it would be in the form of a well-timed one-off of something like a week of shows in South America – where we've never been before. Nobody's banking on anything beyond October though; we're having a pretty nice summer where we're at home half the time and on the road half the time, so it's not too hectic. We had one pretty arduous month there in May and we have a pretty arduous month in September and I think everybody will assess how they feel in the middle of September after we do four shows in September in Central Park in New York.

“So far, it's been pretty painless by Pavement standards,” continues Nastanovich with just a hint of surprise in his voice. “We had a problem in the Nineties in that we would have difficulty saying no to anything unless we reall thought that whatever it was was really tasteless – although I'm sure we did some tasteless things as well [chuckling]. That was pretty much the policy though, but we also had a bit of trouble with communication; it's funny, but I think it would have really helped us out if we'd had email, because we never really knew what was going on until the final word had already been locked in and there we'd be, playing fifty-three venues in fifty-two days [chuckling]. This year has been a whole lot easier on us though, because there isn't much in the way of pressure on us and the main thrust of the pressure that does exist comes from the size of the venues and, really, there's two ways of looking at that too. While it's more difficult to make Pavement music work in a larger venue, the reason we're playing these larger venues is because more people are interested now than when the band existed.

“And believe me when I say that I don't think I misspoke on that point,” Nastanovich consciously reiterates. “I really don't think anyone is banking on this tour taking us back to where we were as a band or 'creative force' or whatever. I think everyone is looking at this tour – and probably Pavement's reunion in general – like a finite rock n' roll experience.”



All of Pavement's albums, including the most recent best-of compilation, Quarantine The Past, are available on Amazon. Buy them here .

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