Stephen Malkmus is a polarizing figure with an appeal that’s hard to wrap your head around. Malkmus, the frontman of on again/off again indie-rock pilgrims Pavement, brought his solo show with backing band the Jicks to Boulder’s Fox Theatre on Wednesday night.
It was a night rife with contradictions — more specifically — counterbalance. Malkmus is a phenomenal guitar player with a seemingly endless array of high-brow riffs; yet songs like “Tigers” and “Brain Gallop” were delivered in overtly accessible packages. His vocals are notoriously mediocre and serve as the cornerstone for the “slacker rock” sound that defined Pavement for much of the ’90s; yet last night he reached moments of unadulterated rock prowess that sounded more classic than contemporary.
Malmus exudes confidence, and his three-piece Jicks were right there with him for every note. The night weighed heavily from last year’s “Mirror Traffic,” to no one’s dismay. Oddly structured songs like “Spazz” ventured into prog-rock territory then zoomed right back into radio-friendly choruses. Through it all, it’s his complex, literate lyrics that pit him against the best songwriters of the past 20 years.
It’s a package that’s all at once intellectual and playful; art-rock with a skater’s slant. “The toxins American made/Weapons-class gray sludge for migrants/Dioxin the chemical sunset/The number one subset of all,” Malkmus preached on last year’s single “Senator.” Followed, fittingly, by the sing-along chorus: “I know what the senator wants/What the senator wants is a blow job.” A balanced diet for even the snobbiest of music fans.
Lisa Higginbotham is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.