REVIEW: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks define ‘success’ at Slim’s

SAN FRANCISCO — Since Pavement went on hiatus in 1999, Stephen Malkmus has released seven albums with the Jicks, the most recent, Sparkle Hard, in May. No one can accuse the man of not working hard. With work ethic undebatable, the frontman found another bone to pick with, well, himself at his band’s sold-out show at Slim’s Wednesday.

“That bus outside,” Malkmus motioned stage-right toward the entrance to the club, “that’s not ours. It’s not [opener] Soccer Mommy’s, either. … Is it still out there? We don’t know whose it is. It’s not ours. I think they cut a deal with Boz Scaggs. I don’t want you to get the impression that Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks are successful.”

That soliloquy came not between songs, but at the outset of his band’s performance, right after the projection screen in front of the stage lifted. After seemingly running out of thoughts on the subject of the bus parked outside, Malkmus picked up a guitar, and the band kickstarted into “Cast Off,” the opening cut from new album Sparkle Hard.

Mike Clarke handled double duty on the song, as he did on several others, manning both rhythm guitar and keyboards, which he usually played in the foreground, carrying the melodies, along with Malkmus’ abrasive guitar, Joanna Bolme’s booming bass and Jake Morris’ syncopated drumming. That cut transitioned directly into “Bike Lane,” the new record’s second track. The song started melodically before unraveling into a happy mess of soloing and Malkmus, a Portland native, singing about “another beautiful bike lane,” over and over.

During “Bike Lane,” Malkmus noticed a fan’s shirt, asking her about it afterward. It wasn’t clear what was on her shirt, but the conversation turned with the frontman saying it reminded him of a comic book store in Portland called Dark Horse Comics.

“It’s like a comic book imprint,” Clarke corrected him, tangentially turning the conversation in a new direction for a minute or more. “They did things like … Alien vs Predator.”

“Dark Wave,” off 2003’s Pig Lib followed, and after the song, before Malkmus had a chance to get chatting again, Bolme issued a stern warning to the frontman, who was likely falling behind where the Jicks would be at that point: “No talking!” So instead, he switched out his guitar for an acoustic for another new cut, “Brethren.” Despite the rough, yet energetic start to the show, switching interests didn’t lead to any loss of momentum.

His nasally voice and the grungy guitars on “Shaggy” (another new one) were a time machine back to the ’90s. The song ended with Malkmus admirably soloing while holding the guitar behind his back. The band briefly slowed it down during “Out of Reaches,” off 2018’s Real Emotional Trash. The song rumbled in a lower register, accompanied by Clarke’s funky keys. The rollicking, but still distorted “Tigers” came next.

At this point Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks were only a third of the way into the show that would include cuts like “Jenny and the Ess-Dog” and a couple of Pavement covers, which this band hasn’t played often until recently. If this band is supposed to be slowing down, no one has told them.

Soccer Mommy, the rising band led by lo-fi pop singer-songwriter Sophie Allison, opened the show with a short but sweet set consisting primarily of material from her debut full-length album, Clean.

Allison’s sandy voice washed over her reverb-drenched guitar on opener “Henry,” “Last Girl” and “Try,” an older single. She kept eye contact to a minimum, even as she was addressing fans or introducing her band (while focusing her attention on a guitar she was tuning).

She introduced one of her buzziest songs, “Your Dog,” with an explanation: “No, I don’t have a dog. I have cats. I’m allergic to dogs.” Granted, I would be allergic to whoever she was singing about, also. Her set also included “Flaw,” “Scorpio Rising,” “Cool” and a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire,” which she performed softly alone on stage.

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