Friday, April 18, 2008

Stephen Malkmus | MASS MoCA | Apr 4

I'm finally catching up on some old posts. Here are a few thoughts and photos from Stephen Malkmus' show at Mass-MOCA down in North Adams on April 4.

John Vanderslice opened the show. I have a few of his songs but they've never grabbed me. I don't hate them but I rarely dial them up either. So, I was hoping his live show would make me swoon. Not so much. I liked his personality on stage and a few of the songs were interesting but I never felt connected or amazed by his stuff.

One thing I did like about Vanderslice's set was the final song when the entire band climbed down into the crowd and performed a song unplugged. Yes, I know The Decemberists, Arcade Fire and other bands do this too but it was still entertaining to see.

Malkmus was in the best mood on stage I've ever seen and that includes about a dozen Pavement shows and one solo show. He was smiling, laughing, joking around with people and never seemed annoyed to be there. All of those things have been rarities in his past shows. Then again, he has two little kids at home these days. Being a father of two little ones myself, I imagine he's enjoying the boredom peace of the road more than during his pre-parenthood days.

My feelings about his live performance is the same as the ones I have for his latest album. If he'd just give up the three minute solos, he'd have some great songs. Within each of his 6+ minute long songs, there's three minutes of Pavement-era jangly guitar hooks and engaging if laconic lyrics. If the songs were all boiled down to those three minutes, it'd be one of the best albums of the year. However, Malkmus has developed some sinister love for guitar noodling. The problem is that they aren't solos that do long builds and releases of tension. They're just linear long-distance noodling. I enjoyed the show but I would have been loving it if he just played the base song.

The big surprise of the night was MASS MoCA. I had never been there before but loved the place. It's an excellent example of reused space. The old textile mills have been converted into a complex of restaurants, shops, apartments, art galleries and performance space. While the room for the concerts is just an ordinary big box, all of the surrounding spaces are fantastic.

Malkmus commented on the place a few times. At one point he half-joked, half-politicked that the place was a great use of our tax money. Then later he said, "We have nothing like this place on the west cost. We don't even have anything like this west of the Mississippi. The only things we have west of the Mississippi is crystal meth and Steve Albini." Good line.

Someone asked him why he went on FOX News and he brushed it off with a joke saying, "Hey, I'll need a career after music. So, now I could be another slow talking guy on FOX." I still think it was lame to go on the station.

Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore were at the show. Here's a great thing about the two of them. They are big stars in the indie music world and could easily go backstage and watch the show from the wings. However, they just hang out in the crowd with the rest of the fans. I remember seeing them at various shows in NYC in the 90's and it was the same thing. They always get a few people chatting them up but they treat everyone with kindness and respect. Good people and true music fans.

A friend I ran into at the show spoke to Kim and mentioned how much he enjoyed the show they played in Burlington last year. She thanked him and said they enjoyed playing up here. It's probably a standard answer they give to fans but it's still kind to not just dismiss people.

One of my favorite exhibits that I saw at MASS MoCa were the upside down trees in one of the courtyards. Between their pots looking like transformers and the wire and poles holding them, it gives the look of electrical wiring which connects the display with the buildings' industrial past. Plus, seeing the trees in the winter before the leaves bloomed made the trees look like shredding wires emerging from a transformer.

I didn't take this last photo of the trees. It's courtesy of Make Up your Mind.

MASS MoCA's blog has links to other reviews of the show.

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