But Pavement was nothing at all like we pictured them. They were a bunch of foxy dudes, and they were into it. As soon as they hit the stage, you could hear all the girls in the crowd ovulate in unison. There were five or six of them up there, some banging on guitars, some just clapping their hands or singing along. They did not stare at the floor. They were there to make some noise and have some fun. — Rob Sheffield, Love Is A Mix Tape
I’ve always wondered, every time I re-read Love Is A Mix Tape, what the guys from Pavement thought about the book. Pavement was so central to Rob and Renee’s relationship with music, so I’ve always been curious. Rob Sheffield, if you can answer that question, please email me. Or Malkmus. You could also email me, Mr. Malkmus.
I never saw Pavement. No excuses: I just didn’t. I am sure I had plenty of chances, given that I lived in Baltimore during the heyday of the HFStival, but I didn’t. Then they broke up, and while Crooked Rain Crooked Rain remains to this day one of my all-time favorite albums, I didn’t necessarily always pay attention to what Pavement’s ex-members were doing with their time. Then I started the self-portrait project and Pavement was on my radar all the time, and so was Stephen Malkmus. I’ve always heard that Pavement was electrifying live, and the thing is, Malkmus still is. Malkmus is beyond electrifying live — he’s awkward and sort of shy and I spent half the set crouched on the steps up to the stage, my knees aching and my legs twisted awkwardly underneath me, and I could not look away.
I didn’t keep a set list. I can’t tell you how many songs they played, or how long the set was. I was, put simply, absolutely transfixed by what was going on on stage. I put my camera down about five songs in, and I didn’t pick it back up. I just let the music shiver and ache through my spine and my heart and my soul, and eventually I went and sat on the floor at the back of the Ballroom and let the bass and drums and Malkmus’s rasp and shout reverberate all the way up the concrete into the spot just below my ribcage, and I sat on the concrete and I cried with joy. It wasn’t the same kind of joy that I weep from during a Josh Ritter set, but it was the same kind of prayer. It was the same kind of prayer that live music, the best live music, brings me, the belief that there is good in the world and sometimes it is in an electric guitar and a guy in his 40s who still believes in the power of rock and roll just like I do.
This may very well have been the best set I’ve seen this year. (Full photo set here. The Haw River Ballroom is still one of my favorite places to shoot; great sightlines, and ugh, those LIGHTS.)