Live at the Gothic Theater – and the drums were a-drummin’…
PHOTOS AND TEXT BY BEN CURNETT
Jake Morris is really, really great at drums.
That’s where a rundown of the recent Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks show at the Gothic Theatre in Denver needs to start. Of course, the band was fun and energetic. The sound was perfect. The song selection was great for die hards and casual fans alike. Joanna Bolme hit deep dark brown notes and did a dead-on impression of Kim Gordon on “Refute.” Mike Clark filled the room with keyboards and guitars. The Malk (I’m not really a nickname guy, but that’s what I’m going with now) was the perfect song and dance man as per usual.
But the drums. The drums were something else. You get that to greater or lesser extents on the SM & t Jx studio albums, even before Morris, and the new release that this tour is supporting, Sparkle Hard, is no exception. Morris was an absolute highlight of the show; he played nothing short of perfect rock drums, a completely next-level performance. The spaces Morris left between beats were as musical and deliberate the beats themselves. His fills were graceful/drunk Dean Martin tumbles into steady but loping time signatures (“Stick Figures In Love,” “Bretheren”). His driving rhythm on longer, ramblier ventures (“Kite,” “Real Emotional Trash”) were riddled with all kinds of subtle flourishes that sprung up everywhere. On stage with a group of very talented musicians, Morris pushed the band higher and farther than their individual art would allow. He was a gift.
Live, the Jicks just get better. Four years is a long time, but 2014’s Wig out at Jagbags (and really, most everything under the SM moniker) bears repeated listening, so at least fans have had that. The live show, though, is what’s really been missing. The Malk (!) doesn’t shy away from his Grateful Dead influences, and it’s easiest/most enjoyable to see and hear on stage. “Middle America” from the new album came about halfway through the set and is the Jerry-est thing they’ve done since “Cinnamon And Lesbians” which they played a few songs earlier. Not to put too fine a point on it, they broke into a “China Cat Sunflower” teaser in the middle of “Shady Lane” during the encore, just in case you weren’t getting the vibe.
The other Pavement tune, “In The Mouth A Desert” closed the show, and was a crowd-pleaser, natch. The woman next to me almost threw herself off the balcony. But are those songs The Malk’s albatross? I hope not. Like everyone else, I love hearing them. Seeing them played live definitely takes me back, which is pretty great in its own right. At the same time, I’d be happy enough if he never played any of them again. It’s hard to remember sometimes, but SM & t Jx have been together for nearly twice as long as The Malk’s other band. It’s entirely its own thing, sans-nostalgia. To me, at this point in my life, that’s miles better, and that’s why I loved the show so much.
Put another way, I count myself lucky to have seen Pavement in Denver during the ‘90s; but I count myself much luckier to have seen Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at the Gothic last Tuesday.