A lot can happen in fourteen years. Since their formation almost immediately after Pavement’s hiatus in 2000, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks have released six albums, the latest of which, Wig Out at Jagbags, was released in January to positive acclaim. The much hoped for Pavement reunion tour was realised in 2010, but it remained a one off. It would appear, then, that the world is happy to let Malkmus continue to make the music he wants, rather than clamour for a bygone chapter in his career.
Support came in the form of Joanna Gruesome, who were produced by Hookworms’ MJ – arguably one the most important figures in the UK’s current guitar band resurgence. Playing “Sugarcrush” from their debut album Weird Sister, the band are, as their name suggests, at both their most melodic and raucous. With beautifully delicate vocals from lead singer Alanna McArdle and guitarist Owen Williams juxtaposed with driving drums and distorted guitars, the song is perfect noisepop.
Dressed in black with hair dyed to match, McArdle has the stage presence of a puppeteer. When she wasn’t singing she turned her back to the crowd as if, despite always being visible, she attempted to make herself part of the background until she turned to deliver another blast of vocals. The effect was mesmerising, more so when combined with lines such as ‘I dream of pulling out your teeth’. A quite incredible start.
The Jicks then took to the stage to rapturous applause before opening with new single “Lariat”. Malkmus sung the closing lines, ‘We grew up listening to the music from the best decade ever, Talking about the A-D-Ds’, with the room singing his sentiments back to him. As the song ended Malkmus quickly remarked ‘Okay, we got that one out the way’ and I’m still undecided as to his tone. Perhaps it was the long UK and European tour, or the stresses of filling out one of London’s largest venues, for whatever reason Malkmus seemed reserved. Bassist Joanna Bolme repeatedly apologised for not being able to hear shouts from the crowd and Malkmus did little to elevate the situation, muttering his replies past his microphone at his feet where he seemed intent on tuning.
As the set went on, the crowd continued to try to interact and perhaps misinterpreting their shouts as dissatisfaction, Malkmus became more and more retracted from the crowd. ‘We’re probably nervous or something’ explained their drummer Jake Morris, despite a visibly growing air of tension on stage. This manifested itself physically during the opening bars of their next song, when Malkmus, clearly unhappy, stopped mid-verse to change his guitar. Despite this, guitarist Mike Clark seemed to be enjoying himself, mounting his amp in the appropriate places for the obligatory stage moves that are synonymous with a certain red guitar.
Malkmus, though, should give himself a break; the band sounded great. During “Senator” especially, there was a relaxed glimpse of just how could they could have been. Maybe he just needs to believe it.By Will Olenski