One foot in the Jicks
Before we even set foot in Mercy Lounge last Tuesday night, we heard rumors that a gentleman by the name of Beck Hansen was going to be in attendance. Like, incessant rumors. Something about the gravity of celebrity turns people's brains into one-track mush. But that's OK, because Odelay and Midnite Vultures and Sea Change were relative life-changers for us, so we get the fascination.
Regardless, we were there for Stephen Malkmus and his Jicks — and not just because of Pavement's indelible imprint on modern music. Sure, that's part of it. But the fact is, the Jicks' Beck-produced Mirror Traffic is one of The Spin's favorite releases of 2011 thus far, and after seeing The Lemonheads' mortifying attempt at reproducing It's a Shame About Ray in the very same room the previous night, we needed a good dose of non-disappointment.
We entered as Portlanders Holy Sons were settling into their set, which alternated between dreamy, laid-back psychedelia and bluesy rock grooves. The Sons were pretty tight — both in their playing and in their relative proximity to one another — trading off near-virtuosic (but not quite) matched licks, tempo shifts and pedal-augmented riffs. Jicks drummer Jake Morris even sat in on bass for a down-tempo number so that the Sons' bassist could move over to pedal steel. Pretty solid stuff.
Shortly after Holy Sons wrapped, we noticed an outpouring of Americana folk from Cannery downstairs. Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin had just wrapped their sold-out show, which we'd heard featured a guest appearance from the one and only Robert Plant.
But Mercy was somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 percent full when Malkmus and the Jicks appeared onstage, with Malkmus launching into that characteristic anticlimactic banter of his. "The Eagles ruined Nashville," said Malkmus after describing the plethora of industry types he'd spotted at his hotel. "Fuck the Eagles." From there, SM and his soldiers ripped through a set of gloriously sloppy latter-day indie rock, playing almost entirely songs from Mirror Traffic (like we said, we dig that record). Between new jams like "Senator" and "Tigers," Malkmus quipped about matters such as the aforementioned Lemonheads show, inferring that frontman "Dirty Deeds Dando" must have had "his finger up his capo."
At roughly this point in the set, we ventured from the front of the room to the bar, where we found — yep, you guessed it — the illustrious Mr. Beck chilling with his svelte little frame and a fedora atop his impossibly youthful-looking noggin. Beck's mere presence was causing something of an orbital pull in the bar vicinity, and while we certainly felt the urge to shuffle toward him and shout, "Hey! 'Loser'!" with our index finger extended, we had an easy "Fuck that" moment once we realized that the Jicks were playing "Stick Figures in Love." That riff alone is worth the price of Mirror Traffic. If, you know, you're still into buying records.
While we'll concede that the back half of most of the Jicks' newer tunes land on the extended, somewhat wanky side, it's still Stephen Malkmus playing guitar. Stephen Malkmus. Playing guitar. And through all of it, his band — arranged in a tight little cluster that almost made them look like they were performing in a living room — matched him wonderfully. We almost didn't even notice that Janet Weiss isn't in the band anymore.
What else? Oh, central Silver Jew/longtime Malkmus bro David Berman was there, though he certainly didn't cause quite the attention singularity that Beck did. Also, they covered Sweet's "Love Is Like Oxygen" — y'know, the one people typically think is an ELO song. We'll just leave it at this: We enjoyed the shit out of ourselves. Maybe it's easy for us to get a bit lost in the Malkmusian slipstream of riffage and lyrical whimsy, and maybe Malkmus' attitude seems a tiny bit like he's on a perpetual victory lap. But we saw and heard what we came to see and hear. The fact that Beck — who, we're told, got carded by a security guard at one point — was in attendance was kinda neat, too.
Look it up
When The Spin walked up to The 5 Spot Friday night — because The Spin is very hip and green and rolls that way all the time — we were expecting a couple things: Firstly, we were told there was apparently no opening act. (Incorrect. Ri¢hie — the latest outfit from Richie Kirkpatrick of Ghostfinger and Jessica Lea Mayfield's band — allegedly played a set of sports- and animal-print-themed, Southern-flavored power-trio tunes. Highly entertaining stuff that we caught at SoundLand and a house party weeks before that, but we missed it this go-round.) Secondly, given this is not only a Glossary release show, but the first time the band's played around these parts in a good while, surely this would be one of those packed-out shows filled to the brim with current and former Murfreesboroeans a la the Sharon Van Etten show last year. But no, not even close.
Nope, things looked pretty much like you'd expect The 5 Spot to on any given Friday night, which isn't to say there wasn't a damn good bit of folks who came out to see the veteran Middle Tennessee staple again for what could have been any given attendee's 100th-plus time over the past 15-plus years.
It's easy to forget just how gifted a band like Glossary is until they're right there rocking your very face off — easy to take such a seemingly permanent mainstay for granted. But heavens, once these guys and girls get cookin', each working their respective magic on their weapons of choice in perfect unison, you're reminded very quickly it's the kind of magic only a band as old as these guys have had time to perfect.
The set was heavy in tracks from their brand-new Long Live All of Us, a Kickstarter-funded, homegrown work recorded over the course of a month at a house in Rockvale, Tenn. Much like the jams for which the band is known best, the new stuff bounces lightly through gospel-influenced belters and deep R&B grooves — all powered with high-energy Southern effervescence.