Five thoughts: Stephen Malkmus (April 2, Beauty Bar)

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at Beauty Bar on April 2, 2014.
Photo: Mike Busch

1. Locals Same Sex Mary open around 9:30 p.m. to a sparse crowd, but it’s early yet, especially for a Beauty Bar gig. The crowd grows a bit for Vegas first-timers Speedy Ortiz, but the sound is overblown and the heavily saturated guitar fuzz drowns out Sadie Dupuis’ vocals. I’m really hoping the sound improves for Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. By 11:30, the Jicks appear to be set up, but the man himself is nowhere to be found.

2. Fifteen minutes later, an inconspicuous Malkmus strolls in, largely unnoticed, under a Mizzou ball cap and an oversized coat (rumor has it he’s just lost some cash at blackjack). “I feel like we’re on the Jimmy Fallon show. Is this normal for you ’cause you live here?” Malkmus asks the crowd. The show has been moved indoors due to (possible) rain, but I’m thinking the decision had more to do with the turnout—the interior looks desolate compared to the Jicks’ 2012 show, which packed the outside patio. The band launches into the sunny, twee-ish “Tigers,” from 2011’s Mirror Traffic, then “Scattegories” and “Houston Hades” from the newly released Wig Out at Jagbags.

3. The band gets off on the wrong foot, restarting for “Stick Figures in Love,” then restarts not once but twice for “Out of Reaches.” None of these songs are particularly old, but it doesn’t appear anyone is judging the Jicks’ dodgy takeoffs. Instead, it adds character to the show, which comes off like a more-polished basement jam session. When the Jicks are on, which is most of the time, the show falls into a no-holds-barred groove, carrying breezily from one gem to the next, and one Malkmus solo to another.

4. A few rows of tightly packed super fans ensure that I can’t see the stage too clearly, but the show is surprisingly intimate, even for those not pressed up against the monitors hugging Malkmus’ feet. The Jicks’ spring into a clean, true-to-the-recording performance of “The Janitor Revealed,” but Malkmus’ guitar lends just the right amount of meat to make it feel raw, alternating between singing, playing and holding the mic in one hand while thrashing his guitar with the other. Every now and then, Malkmus lifts his guitar to his head, eyes shut, playing his guitar upright while the drummer takes on the role of backup vocals.

5. It’s almost proverbial when the ex-Pavement lead singer shouts into his mic, “So you say that you're too old to yell/But too young for hell/It's not far away,” his teeth nearly gripping the mic during “Baby C’mon,” the last track from the 16-song set. The audience joins in for a short sing-along before the band exits the stage and then returns for an encore. “Yeah we’re back,” Malkmus says, slightly deadpan, “Thanks for coming you guys.” Bassist Joanna Bolme and drummer Jake Morris switch instruments on “(Do Not Feed the) Oyster,” then end with the only Pavement song of the night, 1989 classic “Box Elder.” As I exit, I’m still not sure what kept Malkmus fans away tonight. Was it the $20 cover charge? A Wednesday night? Two years ago, I wasn’t blown away by The Jicks’ performance, but I’m glad I have tonight to overshadow that underwhelming moment in Malkmus’ short Vegas history. And after tonight, I’m already awaiting their return.

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Leslie Ventura is a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly and Industry Weekly. She’s picked the brains of rock stars ...

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