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Live review: Pavement reunites in style at the Fox Theater Pomona

April 16, 2010 |  5:00 am

In a way, the worst thing that could have been happened to a shaggy dog crew like Pavement was to be crowned as legends. The forever unfazed five-piece have been kicking around the bloated corpse of rock star idolism since their 1992 debut, the exquisite riot of “Slanted & Enchanted.”

On 1997’s “Brighten the Corners,” when Stephen Malkmus sang “the leaders are dead” in “Starlings in the Slipstream,” it was a cry of panic and glee – and certainly not a bid to become one of the new ones. Unless leadership could be assumed with equal parts irreverence and elegy for what had passed.

But at their pre-Coachella date and first North American reunion show, Pavement, birthed in unremarkable Stockton, California, delivered a powerful romp worthy of lore. It was the kind of show that a fan expected from the band in the late ‘90s but the band, publicly splintering by the minute, couldn’t quite manage.

With tensile focus over a two-hour set of 31 songs, Pavement visited every cluttered nook of their collection, turning loose a spinning jenny of chiming guitars, elegant riffs, spaceball synth effects and tossed-off lyricism.

For the first few songs, Pavement, with little more stage decor than a few strands of light overhead, seemed slightly tentative. The crowd, outfitted in enough flannels and slouchy jeans to trick a time traveler into thinking it was 1997 at the snazzy Pomona Fox Theater, matched their mood with hesitant swaying.

But once they hooked their claws into the trip-start rhythms of “Rattled By the Rush,” the show blew open. Spread across the stage, with Malkmus on one side and steadfast guitarist Scott Kannberg on the other, the band moved closer together. As they launched into the thick of the set, they rode a low-end rumble from drummer Steve West and bassist and Sonic Youth member Mark Ibold that sometimes teased at the edges of destruction.

On the California geography jam “Unfair,” multi-instrumentalist and band kook Bob Nastanovich, who also works as a horse-racing chart caller, grabbed the mic and did his best Mark E. Smith imitation while Malkmus staggered around like some drunken “Nutcracker” ballerina. The crowd was dazzled; one fan resolutely danced, throwing his head back and singing every lyric.

Throughout the show, Pavement dug into almost the entirety of “Slanted & Enchanted,” treating it with delirium and dogged attention. “Range Life,” which infamously started a ridiculous indie rock beef between Billy Corgan and Malkmus, still took its playful swipes at the Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots but with a generous twist at the end.

Closing out with a double encore – for the second one, Malkmus treated the audience to one of his few grins of the night – Pavement played two songs that eloquently bookended their appeal. “Stereo,” which Pavement fans walk around quoting like “Star Wars” nerds do with Jedi lines, saw Malkmus at his most charismatic. The band matched his inventive refinement, adding a sense of celebration. The momentum carried over into “Loretta’s Scars” but with a ferocity licking at the foundation, like it all just might topple into the Pacific -- or the desert or some other California cataclysmic landscape -- at any second.

--Margaret Wappler

Photo: A banner year for Pavement, from left, Mark Ibold, Stephen Malkmus, Steve West, Bob Nastanovich, Scott Kannberg. Credit: Tarina Westlund