Pavement, 90′s rock darlings, back on tour after 12 years off the road

Influential indie band, led by Stephen Malkmus, playing the Eastern Oct. 8 and 9.

Pavement, the quintessential 1990s alternative band, will make a rare re-union tour appearance in Atlanta Oct. 8 and 9.

It has been 30 years since the group, led by guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Stephen Malkmus, harnessed adolescent angst and anger in the epochal “Slanted and Enchanted,” their 1992 debut LP that typified the decade.

Seven years and five albums later, the band broke up, somewhat bitterly. In 2010 they reunited for a worldwide tour and broke up again. In 2019 they announced they would play a few European festivals, but those performances were delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Finally, in May 2022, they played their first shows after a 12-year hiatus, performing in Los Angeles.

Drummer Steven West, who joined the band in 1993, said many things have change since the 1990s, but some things have remained the same.

“The core personality of the band, how we interacted, that’s still there, that hasn’t changed all that much. We’ve gotten older, maybe a little bit wiser, but we’re having a great time.”

They’re also having children.

“Yeah,” said West, brightly, speaking from a tour stop in San Francisco. “Stephen (Malkmus) has two, Scott (Kannberg) has one daughter, and Bobby (Nastanovich) has a horse.”

Nastanovich, a horse-racing authority and a breeder of thoroughbreds, has been friends with West since they were in high school. “He would come over to my house and play my drums.” Nastanovich eventually bought two drums from West for $60 when Malkmus asked Nastanovich to join the band to help keep original drummer Gary Young in line.

“His role kind of evolved in Pavement from driving the van to going on tour with the band as the extra drummer,” said West. Now West and Nastanovich share duties in the band, with West doing most of the drumming and Nastanovich adding occasional percussion, synthesizer and vocals, in particular screaming vocals on songs that require screaming, such as “Unfair” (from 1993′s “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain”). That tune, a sort of portrait of Los Angeles, has the memorable line “Walk with your credit card in the air!/Swing your nachos like you just don’t care!”

Credit: Moses Berkson

Credit: Moses Berkson

The new tour also heralds the April release of “Terror Twilight: Farewell Horizontal” on Matador Records. According to the label it’s “an exhaustive 45-track box set compiled of the remastered original album, B-sides, home demos, rehearsal tapes, and era-appropriate live recordings”.

West said it includes recordings that he’s never heard before. “We’re playing quite a few songs off of that album because they are complicated, they are really good songs, they have a lot of life to them,” he said. “And we have Rebecca Cole doing most of the more complicated keyboard parts. Her keys, vocals and personality are an added bonus; it’s like a secret weapon, having her in the band.”

The band is a vehicle for Malkmus’ unique vision, with contributions from guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Kannberg, also called “Spiral Stairs,” and bassist Mark Ibold.

Malkmus’ recipe: Putting distorted guitars behind nerdy vocals and cryptic lyrics. Instead of the operatic bombast of rock singers in the Roger Daltrey school, Malkmus adopted a casual, adenoidal delivery that varied from spoken word to urgent whine.

He coupled this approach with lyrics that escape interpretation, but hover on the edge of meaning.

This year Pavement released a new video for “Harness Your Hopes” (featuring actress Sophie Thatcher from the Showtime series “Yellowjackets”) which includes the lines, “Well, show me a word that rhymes with pavement/And I won’t kill your parents and roast them on a spit/And don’t you try to etch it or permanently sketch it/Or you’re gonna catch a bad, bad cold.”

Critics claim other bands (Weezer is high on the list) took the same formula and neatened it up to generate pop success.

West said Weezer “honed it down into something that was more accessible than what we were doing. It was better produced, simplified, and those are not negative things at all. I’m glad they’ve done well over the years; it’s flattering to be influential in that way.”

For his part, Malkmus is quick to credit his own inspirations, including the Fall and R.E.M., and even included a tribute to R.E.M., a song called “Unseen Power of Picket Fences,” on a compilation LP, “No Alternative” created to benefit AIDs research.

Malkmus’ instinct to resist accessibility means that even on a tune like the dreamy, soft-focus, harmonically conventional “Major Leagues,” from “Terror Twilight,” his lyrics go sideways:

“Lip balm on a watery clay/Relationships hey hey hey/You kiss like a rock but you know I need it anyway/Angle for the ringside seats/When they fall, don’t blame me.”

West saluted this stubborn avoidance of the mainstream, and “the talent Stephen has, to write a beautiful song with a chorus that isn’t like a home run hit, that gets in your head, and drives you up the wall.”

Significantly, this approachable song is apparently one that Malkmus doesn’t like to play. Kannberg told the online publication Vulture, “This and ‘Carrot Rope’ from ‘Terror Twilight’ are two classic Malkmus pop songs that he hates. He had something against playing great pop songs. I would always get him to do it.”


Pavement, with psych-rock Virginia band Piranha Rama opening

8 p.m. Oct. 8-9. $49-$125. The Eastern in the Dairies complex, 777 Memorial Drive SE, Atlanta.