Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks Sparkle At Petaluma’s Mystic Theatre (Review)

Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks
– Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks

“What’s up?” Stephen Malkmus addressed the sold-out crowd at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, Calif., July 17 before he and his backing band, the Jicks, launched into “Cast Off.” Starting the setlist with the first track from the album you’re promoting may seem like an unimaginative choice – like, ‘Really, did you put any thought into this? Are you just going to play the new album in order?’ But I was into it. There’s obviously a reason that song was chosen to lead the album and it follows that it will work to kick off a live show.

“Cast Off” draws the audience in, beginning with nearly half a minute of simple piano notes and chords, slowly building with Malkmus’ unique speak-sing vocals, before being joined with a burst of bass, drums and gloriously scuzzed-out electric guitar.   
From the get-go, the band and the acoustics at the 500-capacity theatre, built in 1911, sounded amazing. For the most part Malkmus & the Jicks’ performance stayed true to the recordings – which isn’t a negative thing. Simply put, if you dig the band’s music, you’ll love the live show. 
And what’s not to dig, with Malkmus’ clever word play and the Jicks’ interesting arrangements? I mean, if you’re an indie rock fan, you’re kind of required to show Stephen Malkmus some respect. Malkmus has been called “the indie rock patron saint” by Pitchfork or “the dad of indie rock” by GQ, thanks to his role as the frontman of influential ’90s indie band Pavement.  
But while Pavement is revered for its influence on the indie scene and hailed as one of the best bands of the ‘90s, after the group split in 1999 (reuniting for a 2010 reunion tour), Malkmus hasn’t gotten stuck in the past. 
With the May release of Sparkle Hard, Malkmus has now been doing his own thing for 18 years (compared to just a decade with Pavement) – and the tunes are more interesting than ever. To get technical, Sparkle Hard is the Jicks’ seventh release, but Malkmus’ self-titled 2001 album was just released under his own name. 
Stephen Malkmus
– Stephen Malkmus
A review from The Guardian proclaims that Malkmus’ “sonic palette extends from cosmic and country rock to sun-drenched neo-psychedelia and prog-pop, with Television-style guitar virtuosity and XTC-type jerky rhythms.” 
In other words, it was definitely wasn’t a problem that the majority of the 17-song Petaluma setlist featured tunes from the new album. The setlist included eight tracks from Sparkle Hard, one from 2003’s Pig Lib (“Witch Mountain Bridge”), two from 2005’s Face the Truth (“Malediction,” “Freeze The Saints,”), two from 2011’s Mirror Traffic (“No One Is (As I Are Be),” “Stick Figures In Love,”) two from 2014’s Wig Out at Jagbags (“Cinnamon And Lesbians,” “Houston Hades”) and two Pavement covers. It was a nice sampling of the band’s catalog, besides leaving out 2008’s Real Emotional Trash. 
“Cast Off” was followed by the Sparkle Hard track “Bike Lane,” which is probably Malkmus’ most political of his career, contrasting the bougie concern over “another beautiful bike lane” being added to one’s city versus the police brutality that resulted in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.  
That song and the seeming shout-out to the #MeToo movement in “Middle America” with the lyrics “Men are scum, I won’t deny,” earned praise from Pitchfork, which noted that “perhaps the most surprising thing about his fetching seventh album … is how of-the-moment it feels.”
As far as his stage presence goes, Malkmus definitely fits the “slacker rock” label that’s often been assigned to Pavement, with his ultra chill vibe matching his sometimes unaffected vocals. That being said, his signature shrieks still sound as good as ever. He’s not one to jump up and down or run across the stage – but that’s not him or what the band is all about. Somehow, he made khaki pants, a green polo shirt and white sneakers seem cool, when that sounds like a totally lame dad outfit. But he’s the cool dad. 
While the most outward excitement you might notice from Malkus is a sly smile (maybe?) every now and again or the frontman shaking his signature shaggy hair to the music, you should keep an eye on guitarist/keyboardist/tambourine shaker Mike Clark, who spent most of the show with a cheesy grin on his face, just taking it all in and making eye contact with the audience. Drummer Jake Morris and bassist Joanna Bolme (who has been with the Jicks since the 2001 debut album) also seemed to be having a great time. 
Though Malkmus is a chill dude in general, he wasn’t standoffish with the crowd and was generous with the stage banter. After playing the Wig Out At Jagbags track “Cinnamon And Lesbians,” which is seen as a homage to the Grateful Dead, Malkmus noted that he “wore my Bob Weir shirt just for that song.” He added that he saw Bob Weir’s documentary (“The Other One: The Long, Strange Trip Of Bob Weir”) on Netflix and knew he was a rich kid. 
Malkmus also asked if there was any one in the audience from his hometown of Stockton, a Central Valley city about two hours away from Petaluma, and then commented that you can “score drugs there, get shot.” He added, “No, there’s other things.” That comment, while supposedly funny, came off a bit elitist but maybe that’s just like, my opinion, man.   

Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks
– Stephen Malkmus And The Jicks
Stephen Malkmus shows off his guitar skills at the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, Calif.
The band asked for requests from the audience and went with the Pig Lib prog-rock track “Witch Mountain Bridge.” Though it’s not my favorite track from the album (I would have personally preferred maybe “Vanessa From Queens” or “Animal Midnight”) the crowd seemed to enjoy it, especially this one dude in front who was singing along to every song. Bolme quipped “How’s that for instant gratification?”  
Malkmus then brought up the band’s recent appearance on CBS and jokingly confessed to the audience that he was eyeing a can of no-gray spray and wondering what shade of brown he should use. 
Clark chimed in with a self-defacing comment of his own about his lack of hair – “You’re lucky. I’m in the Rogaine section.”
The conversation led into Malkmus faking out the audience by saying “This song is called ‘Cut Your Hair.’ Instead of playing what is arguably Pavement’s biggest hit, the band went with the Sparkle Hard track “Refute,” with the bassist filling in for Kim Gordon. Though it was disappointing not to hear “Cut Your Hair,” the song placement in the setlist sort of made sense following the aging talk, seeing as how the tune is about a middle-age couple, where it’s the woman who cheats with the young au pair, rather than the man falling for the nanny.  
A stand-out moment during the set was the Sparkle Hard track “Shiggy” because that song is so damn fun and extra great live. As Pitchfork puts it: “Slathered in unruly fuzz, “Shiggy” rides a beaming riff that grows more jubilant by the minute.”  
Returning to the stage for the encore, Malkmus told the crowd, “You don’t have to cheer anymore if you don’t want.”
He proceeded to introduce the Jicks: Taco aka Jake Morris, Taquito aka Mike Clark, and Fish Taco aka bassist Joanna Bolme. Noting, “I already used taco. Encore canceled,” Malkmus added that he meant to call Bolme a taco salad, something low calorie. 
Seemingly embarrassed at his choice of words, whether because the term “fish taco” could be interpreted as sexual or just because the whole thing was a bit awkward, Malkmus added, “That was a failure. But a lot of people in public places are failing these days.”
Malkmus and co. continued stumbling a bit before starting the next song, with the frontman saying, “We gotta agree on a key.” The audience was patient and seemingly unconcerned with the delay, with one fan shouting, “I’ll take you in any key I can get you.”
“‘Shady Lane,’ this is called,” Malkmus said. “I can teach it to you. I’m also going to play with feeling like I just started giving lessons.” 
The crowd was happy to hear the track from Pavement’s 1997 album, Brighten the Corners, and even more pleased with the final selection of “In The Mouth A Desert” from 1992’s Slanted and Enchanted
The crowd went wild – as wild as 30 and 40-something hipsters can go at an indie rock show – with some fans jumping up and down with their hands in the air. Malkmus was also going all out, with a bit of showboating by playing his guitar behind his head. 
“Thank you. No drink and no drive,” Malkmus instructed his fans. After all, what would “the dad of indie rock” be without telling his fans to drive safe?