Like most undergrads here, I have a long wait until my 10-year high school reunion. But from what I’ve heard, or at least seen on TV, reunions aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Unfortunately, the same can often be said about band reunions. Even when all the former members are still alive, chances are they’re shells of their former rock ‘n’ roll selves.
But that isn’t always the case. Just last week, a certain band reunited after a decade of inactivity to embark on an ambitious world tour. I am talking about hugely influential (if commercially unsuccessful) California-bred indie rockers of the ’90s : Pavement.
Judging by reports and videos from their first gig back on the road, 10 years is the magic number. The decade apart has healed internal animosity without taking much of a toll on their ability. In short, they still rock a packed venue.
In light of their tour’s infancy, which happens to correspond with a modern lo-fi ’90s revival trend in the greater music world, it’s worth a minute to see where Pavement came from, what they’ve been up to and who they’ve inspired. I’m willing to bet at least a few artists on your iPod wouldn’t exist without their influence.
In an attempt to analyze an iconic sound that spawned a seminal era in music, this is the Pavement tribute list.
“I’m So Free” – Lou Reed
Chronologically speaking, this list has to begin with influences. A prominent example the band often credits in interviews is none other than Lou Reed. “I’m So Free” is a stimulating outburst that reflects Reed’s “normal” side. Come on, every playlist needs a banger to get the ball rolling.
Notoriously eccentric and experimental, the influence of Reed’s churning mind is less apparent in Pavement than his vocals. As this song shows, it doesn’t take a trained birdsong voice to create memorable music, a lesson Pavement singer Stephen Malkmus has learned and swears by. It goes to show that anyone can sing if you embrace the rust on your pipes and do a bit of melodic speaking. Hey, Buddy the Elf (Will Ferrell) was right. For further proof, see Bob Dylan.
“The Killing Moon” – Echo & The Bunnymen
At times called the “most British American band,” Pavement plays with some rather heavy inspiration from the UK. Without it, they might have been just another California surf punk band. Thankfully, foreigners like Echo & The Bunnymen were alive and well to enlighten, at least for Pavement guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg.
If The Cure were to collaborate with Interpol in 1989, well, first of all, Interpol would need a time machine. Assuming we’re playing by science fiction rules and this really could happen, you’d probably call them lame for ripping off “The Killing Moon,” and then you’d change the cassette. This song is full of dreamy surrealism familiar to both bands, drawing from The Cure’s melancholy whine and Interpol’s reverberating indie guitar.
Pavement liked the song enough to record their own rendition for their Major Leagues EP, cementing E & the B as grandfathers of contemporary alternative rock.
“A Mighty Mighty Fall” – Spiral Stairs
In terms of vocals, Ian McCulloch (of Echo & the Bunnymen) is to Spiral Stairs as Lou Reed is to Stephen Malkmus. Stairs’ voice is more relaxed here than McCulloch’s, but it still rains with emotional resignation. As such, he meshes seamlessly with the country-folk sway of the instrumentals.
The seasoned Pavement fan will definitely hear traces of “Range Life” and “Folk Jam” here, but with a different lyrical approach that is more straightforward than a Stephen Malkmus scenario-based song.
In his first solo album, The Real Feel, Spiral Stairs proves his chops and shows a few different sides. “A Mighty Mighty Fall” is but one of them.
“Gardenia” – Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks
Not to be outdone by his guitarist, Stephen Malkmus, one of Pavement’s vocalists and the backbone of Pavement’s creative nature, has come to establish himself as an indie figurehead. The breakup did nothing to slow Malkmus’ musical output; he’s been hard at work recording and touring material on his own and with his band, The Jicks.
This song is a great image of a cheerful Malkmus. “Gardenia” is warm and catchy in its chord progression and chorus. But remember, there are layers. Masked by a bright chord progression, his serious side peeks through in the trademark emotional slacker lyrics that are quick to describe a situation. But honestly, that’s just how Malkmus writes. If this song doesn’t lift you up, it’s time to find some hobbies, man.
“Nefarious” – Spoon
An important band can be depicted as a tree. Deep roots in industry predecessors give rise to a solid trunk of visible, original material, with branches that reach into every direction of future imitators. In that sense, Spoon is a thick offshoot straight from Pavement’s core, with their own system of winding branches to follow.
This song was recorded in ’96, back when the Pavers were still good and active. Thus, lo-fi, post-punk influences are all too evident in “Nefarious” and the rest of Spoon’s debut, Telephono. Not surprisingly, Matador Records released the album at a time when Spoon and Pavement shared claim to the label.
In a way, Spoon picked up where Pavement left off, and can share praise (or blame) for moving music towards the Brit-rock alternative sound that has been ever-prominent in the ought’s. You can compare this song directly to Pavement’s “Unfair” and “Stereo,” and add a pinch of the Pixies. Onward from “Nefarious,” Spoon is still growing strong today, and their roots are grounded in Pavement.
Joe Nistler ([email protected]) is a sophomore majoring in Italian and journalism.