There was a brief kerfuffle on Twitter Sunday night because co-headliners Phoenix were outdrawing Pavement’s ballyhooed U.S. return to Coachella. How could a bunch of omnipresent French upstarts with a couple catchy singles usurp the drooled-over return of the prodigal indie-rock darlings?
The truth is, Pavement were never built for a big stage.
Their last stint at Coachella, in 1999, was the picture of a band in its death throes. They were generally content to merely let songs end, instead of finishing them, and that cool ambivalence was central to the band’s unique charm.
But the combination of age and wisdom and plain old business acumen have had a restorative effect on Pavement: They’re here to do this right this time, trying harder without looking like they’re actually trying. This is a very Pavement problem to have.
From the moment they ambled onstage Sunday night, all rumpled Oxfords and sensible shoes, the classic no-big-whoop demeanor was in full bloom, if self-effacingly so. Drummer Steve West pretended to be talking on his cell phone as he took his seat behind his kit. The stage show consisted of some draped Christmas lights.
But the two Jumbotrons bookending the stage betrayed that thing creeping across frontman Steve Malkmus’ Dorian Gray mug after the Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain opener “Silence Kid”: a big, goofy smile.
Or, better, after Slanted and Enchanted‘s “Perfume-V,” a hearty Tiger-like fist pump.
Well, fuck, if y’all are gonna get emotional about it, I guess that means we can, too. Welcome to indie rock 2.0, where it’s cool to care.
Certainly, as festival acts go, songs like “Trigger Cut” and “In the Mouth a Desert” may not lend themselves to arm-swaying, singalongs, and beachball-tossing, but that’s kind of the fun of it. While “Summer Babe,” “Gold Soundz,” and “Frontwards” played like the smash hits they never were, tighter and brighter than they were the first time around.
So it was a nostalgia trip for some, history lesson for others: After “Unfair” crashed to a rowdy but precise halt, Malkmus quipped, “That was pretty much the ’90s in a nutshell.”
And if you listened just hard enough, you may have detected the slightest note of wistfulness.