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
On the other hand, they recalled punkier days with a noisenik version of
another Brighten single, "Stereo" (RealAudio
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
"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