The ongoing '90s nostalgia cycle has left Pavement in an awkwardly elevated place. The indie rockers' 2010 reunion tour-slash-victory lap helped transform these erstwhile shrugging underdogs into the sort of almost universally canonized Rock Stars they would've mocked. Someone tell Beck: you can't be a loser once you're winning, baby. It all got to be so much that last year SPIN's own Rob Harvilla came out on #TeamBillyCorgan in the long-running Smashing Pumpkins-Pavement feud. Pavement were "ambitious men who cynically refused to appear ambitous"; the "class clown" was actually the "class bully."
To that we say: But have you heard their early live recordings? Yesterday, Matador Records tweeted a couple of cuts from what the label called Pavement's first show ever "as a 'real' band." Taken from a 1989 session at 90.3 KDVS in the progressive college town of Davis, California, the recordings feature the songs "Home" and "Mellow Jazz Docent," both of which later appeared on the band's landmark 1991 Perfect Sound Forever EP. But for all the thrill of hearing a beloved band Before They Were Internet-Famous, the two live tracks are ugly, sloppy, wonderfully myth-puncturing things. These guys are class bullies? What pill-popping admissions officer even let them into the school?
Both recordings are indecipherable and goofy; the rudiments of the songs are there, but you probably won't want to listen to them any more often than you listen to, say, the first disc of the Beatles' Anthology Vol. 1. Is that a harmonica over the squiggly guitar anti-solo on "Mellow Jazz Docent"? Is that "Home" underneath all the piercing feedback? Both of these songs would arguably reach their apotheosis several years later in the London show captured on bootleg Stray Slacks (and included on reissue Slanted and Enchanted - Luxe and Reduxe). They haven't yet here.
So the newly recirculating Pavement live recordings are messes. But like last year's similarly scratchy Silver Jews reissue Early Times, which prominently featured Pavement's Stephen Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich, they're welcome messes. They show a now-iconic band was once just a bunch of geeked-out record collectors who liked to make noise and drink beer. What a racket!
And now Malkmus gets to cover Can in Germany? Someone tell Billy life isn't fair.