A backroad drive down a street I can’t imagine traveling ever again. My girlfriend dragged me four hours North to Birmingham, Alabama to see her favorite band, Pavement. She was asleep. I was trying to navigate the unlit roads at 3 in the am back to Tallahassee. I had talk radio on to keep me awake. They’re mourning the death of John Denver.
I drove 37 miles east to Pomona to see what was now my favorite band, Pavement. They hadn’t played a show in the US since 1999. During which time I fell in love with their angst mixed with playfulness. The abstract lyrics that either mean so much or nothing depending on who’s interpreting them.
I was meeting my friend Robert who’s unfamiliar with Pavement, but came as a fan of live music. As I dealt with traffic this school night excursion seemed a chore. But when I parked my car and walked through the orderly college town to the marquee claiming, “Pavement! Sold out!” a spring came to my step. I was seeing my favorite band.
The Fox Theatre is that old timey Western concert hall that seems to be so prevalent in California. The Fillmore, the Wiltern, The El Rey, The Great American Music Hall all have similar high ceiling balconies where you could imagine Abraham Lincoln getting shot.
The opening act called themselves The Middle East. They’re an Australian band with countless bearded members. There was polite bored applause as they finished their set. Everyone was restless in their flannel shirts and black rimmed glasses to see the band of their youth.
I explained to Robert the myriad reasons why the band we were about to see was so great. A blond woman in front of us chimed in. She was from Columbus, Ohio and was visiting California for the first time. She made certain to let us know she hates Christopher Columbus and that he was a genocidal maniac. I ask her if she’s seen Pavement live before.
“Oh no. I was 12 when they broke up.”
“I assume everyone is my age.” I told her.
“It’s OK. People always think I’m 30.”
“It’s because you seem worldly.” I said. She took it as an insult so I clarified, “Not world weary, but worldly.”
Her boyfriend came back and immediately put his arm around her to let us know she’s his territory. I introduced myself to him, but his girlfriend kept wanting to talk about Pavement. “What song do you want them to start with?”
“Silence Kit.” I say.
“Me too!” she screamed.
The lights came down and the band walked on the stage. I yelled myself hoarse as the first chords come out of what else? Silence Kit. The blonde girl and I exchanged high fives under jealous eyes as we sang along to the words of a song I always thought would be a great theme for a cop show.
As the song wound down I asked her, “What song do you want them to play second?”
“Rattled By The Rush.”
“Me too!” Pavement did not play that song next (it was fifth on their set list) But the power of music was undeniable. Space and time be damned a bond was created between me and this girl and probably hundreds of other in the crowd as we sung along to every verse in their catalog. It didn’t matter if you first heard their music on a car stereo on the Pacific Coast Highway or a dorm room in the Midwest. Those guitars set to alternate tunings hit you right in that nostalgic part of your heart.
Pavement’s lead singer, Stephen Malkmus, known for being the ornery sort, ended Pavement on his terms leaving his bandmates out to dry. But tonight he was just one of the guys standing stage center left allowing his cohorts to get their share of the attention. It seemed he was having the time of his life as he pantomimed the lyrics and strummed his guitar from the top of the neck.
Seeing how much fun the band was having depressed me a little when I thought of the Paul McCartney concert a few weeks earlier. If only Paul and John would have gotten their egos out of the way. A Beatles reunion wouldn’t have only been manna for their fans, but a life affirming cathartic experience for the band members. A night out where they could jam 31 of their favorite songs, be persuaded to grace us with two blistering encores and then share a beer with the fellows who knew them before anyone in the crowd did.