Secret Meeting score: 85
by Philip Moss
On the first night of a thirteen-night European tour, Portland-based singer/songwriter, Stephen Malkmus, delivered a scuzzy set of off-kilter pop to an adoring Manchester audience.
Despite being best known for his work as the main man in the nineties slacker pop band, Pavement, tonight’s set is almost solely pooled from his output with The Jicks – the musicians he has been collaborating with for almost two decades.
Despite the universal critical acclaim received for his latest album, Sparkle Hard, released in May of this year, the Albert Hall is far from capacity. However, those choosing not to attend miss out on an absolute treat, with the Sparkle Hard songs in particular translating wonderfully to the live arena. Album opener, Cast Off, is a gloriously ramshackle mess, Bike Lane motors complete with a smattering of squeals and yelps at the end of each verse, while Middle America finds Malkmus lazily dragging out the vocal melodies, which is in complete juxtaposition to its tight, chiming guitars. And there’s a fair share of guitar slingin’ too, with Malkmus riffin’ ala Hendrix – his guitar goofily chucked over his head – before Shiggy marks the start of his mission to singlehandedly raise a petition for the re-emergence of the Wah Wah pedal into contemporary music.
Perhaps the absolute highlight of the set came from an unlikely source – Freeze The Saints from 2005’s Face The Truth LP, which is stripped right back to just piano and vocal. Malkmus showing just how understatedly great his often maligned voice really is.
The encore – which brings with it a couple of Pavement tracks (B-side No Tan Lines, from the Shady Lane single and The Hexx, taken from their final album, Terror Twilight) plus a Neil Young cover, Barstool Blues – topped off a fine outing from Malkmus and Co. But what tonight really proved is that there’s more than enough in his post-Pavement locker to warrant the heavy emphasis on the second half of his career. How many musicians who leave bands of cult status can make that claim?