Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Brighten the Corners

October 02, 2010

Pavement at the Hollywood Bowl Photo: mine 2010

It was the 1990s all over again on Thursday for a show that officially closed out the L.A. Philharmonic-sponsored summer season at the Hollywood Bowl. And what better way to go than a triple art-rock bill featuring the bands No Age, Sonic Youth, and California’ own legendary Pavement. This was at the tail end of a string of reunion shows for Pavement after nearly a decade away from any joint projects. The show, which front man Stephen Malkmus announced from the stage as their last in America, was a potent, concise reminder of how great and how fragmented the band could be, always coming together and falling apart in different ways simultaneously.

Sonic Youth at the Hollywood Bowl Photo: mine 2010

Long before they took the stage, however, were two other notable sets. The duo No Age kicked things off with a group of pulsing, guitar and electronic driven songs reminiscent of any number of 1990s acts. For a moment it was as if Clinton was still in office, and all was right with the world. Following them was the oddly placed Sonic Youth. The band has outlived and out-influenced everyone around them, including Pavement and their willingness to open for one of their arguably more conventional artistic offspring only reinforces how they got to be the legends they are. In keeping with the musical theme of the evening, the band focused heavily on material from 1988’s Daydream Nation, arguably the source for all important rock music for the next decade and a clear precursor to Pavement’s own work. They are still as tight as ever and delivered intense versions of “Hey Joni”, “The Sprawl”, and “Candle”. They closed the all-to-brief set with a blistering “White Cross”.

There was still more show to go, however, and Pavement arrived to a wildly enthusiastic if not capacity audience at the Bowl. The set drew from all of the band’s studio albums and unsurprisingly focused on their most fertile period spanning both Slanted and Enchanted and the subsequent Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. There was exuberance and the material sounded assured and easy-going. But this is Pavement and a bit of disorganization and the freewheeling nature of things was apparent at the margins. The Hollywood Bowl has strict set time limits being an outdoor venue in a residential neighborhood and, like many popular music performers there, the band felt pressure to keep moving. On a few occasions Malkmus visibly rejoined the other band members to stop dawdling and keep moving in between songs as the stage countdown clock kept ticking away. (In classic Sonic Youth style, that outfit had turned the giant red LED clock located near the foot of the stage around for all the audience to see for the last fifteen minutes or so of their set giving things and apocalyptic air.) But not unlike its home state, Pavement managed to persevere through the convoluted and contradictory impulses of its component parts to remind us why we loved them so much in the first place.


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