Pavement Refuse To Look Back

Onstage, indie-rock's golden boys leave noise behind and focus on the melodic pop of new Terror Twilight.

CHICAGO -- The question on many Pavement fans' lips, with this

week's release of their fifth studio album, is this: Will Terror

Twilight finally bring indie-rock's golden boys to the mainstream?

Or has their time passed for good?

Taking the stage at the Metro nightclub at 10 p.m. Thursday, two days

after the album hit stores, the band seemed to allude to that question

right away. The first words out of frontman Steve Malkmus' mouth were,

"I was dressed for success, but success, it never comes."

That's the opening couplet of "Here," a wry ballad from Pavement's 1992

debut album, Slanted and Enchanted. It was an appropriate

beginning to the show, the band's third of its current tour of small

venues and the first of two sold-out Chicago dates.

And then, singer/guitarist Malkmus, bassist Mark Ibold, guitarist Scott

Kannberg, percussionist Bob Nastanovich and drummer Steve West served up

a healthy helping of Terror Twilight's melodic pop, while offering

little of the unbridled noise that marked earlier Pavement records.

Performed live, the new songs "You Are a Light" (RealAudio

excerpt) and "Spit on a Stranger" showed that Terror Twilight

-- which was polished by Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich -- is both

Pavement's most straightforward album and their most catchy.

The emphasis on hooky simplicity continues a trend begun in earnest on

the band's previous album, Brighten the Corners (1997) and

coincides with an increasing tendency on Malkmus' part to tone down his

lyrics' famously biting irony. Their reading Thursday of the Brighten

the Corners radio-ready nugget "Shady Lane" was a sing-along crowd

favorite.

On the other hand, they recalled punkier days with a noisenik version of

another Brighten single, "Stereo" (RealAudio

excerpt).

Some fans struggled with these contradictions.

"They're at a challenging point in their career," Brian Shallcross, 26,

of Chicago, said. "They're trying to hang on to old fans while attracting

new ones. But fans who knew them five or six years ago are older now.

And indie-rock -- people say it's dead."

Such doubts may be spurred by persistent rumors that Terror Twilight

will be Pavement's last album -- rumors the band denies.

Meanwhile, other longtime fans seem positively soured on the new direction.

"The new record is really boring," Thaddeus Rudd, 26, of Chicago, said.

"It's all lovelorn ballads and guitar noodling."

Rudd, co-founder of Chicago independent label Sugar Free Records, was

similarly disappointed by the show. "It felt like the last days of disco,"

he said. He also complained that the band hadn't played "Summer Babe,"

a common favorite among Pavement diehards.

But while some fans voiced concerns, or downright displeasure, the

audience cheered heartily throughout the evening.

Crowd favorites included material both new ("Major Leagues") and old

("Trigger Cut"), though the inevitable shouts for "Cut Your Hair" -- a

modest alternative-rock radio hit in 1994 and probably Pavement's

best-known song -- went unheeded.

The band shunned not only "Cut Your Hair" but the entire Crooked Rain,

Crooked Rain album (1994). Apart from "Here" and "Trigger Cut,"

Pavement dusted off few songs from their early catalog, touching 1995's

Wowee Zowee only briefly for the likes of "Grounded."

An optimist might read Pavement's apparent abandonment of their history

as a desire to innovate. If that's true, another new song -- the pure,

tuneful "Major Leagues" (RealAudio

excerpt) -- was the show's centerpiece, with Kannberg

uncharacteristically setting aside his guitar for a keyboard while

Malkmus sang.

"Relationships, hey hey hey/ You kiss like a rock but you know I need it

anyway," Malkmus mused, assuring fans old and new that when it comes to

self-deprecatory wit, Pavement are prime purveyors. Some things never

change.