Live Review: Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks with Tomten at EMP 10/3/15

Live Reviews
Janice Headley
photos by Brady Harvey/EMP Museum (view set)

Um, Mr. Malkmus? Correct me if I'm wrong, if you're reading this (and by golly, I sure hope you are!), but you seemed a little uncomfortable the night you performed at the EMP Museum. The show was part of the museum's "Influencers Concert Series," which pairs newer artists with the established acts who inspired them, celebrating "how the greatest forms of creativity are often sparked by sharing in the creativity of others." (Quoted from the EMP's site, directly.)

For your evening, you were paired with Seattle trio Tomten, and perhaps you were feeling humbled by the weight of your role as an "influencer." I'm not sure if I detected the influence of your work in Tomten's psych-tinged baroque-pop sound, myself, but it sure was nice to hear songs from the band's latest release, The Farewell Party, out now on Versicolor.

Maybe, Mr. Malkmus, you were just overwhelmed being at the EMP's Sky Church, with its dizzying 70-foot ceilings and huge HD LED screen. I'm sure you've never played in front of ceiling-high video projections of clips from cable access TV shows, animated floral designs like the ones from tampon commercials, or what looked like Microsoft screensavers from the early 2000s. Or maybe you were just overwrought from culling together a set list from your vast catalog, including your most recent release Wig Out at Jagbags, released last year on Matador Records. But, when I saw you take the stage that night, looking out at audience, I swear I almost saw you sigh.

You and your fantastic band tore through an hour-long set, perfectly and professionally. We got "Asking Price" and "Tigers" from 2011's Mirror Traffic, "Shibboleth" from Jagbags, "Out Of Reaches" from 2008's "Real Emotional Trash," and even "Jenny and the Ess-Dog" from your debut solo release back in 2001. Those are the ones I remember, anyway. Everyone was as tight as could be: multi-instrumentalist Mike Clark is always a showman, jumping on amps, doing kicks, and I like how he customized his amp.

Your prog-rock influenced guitar solos were right on target, sounding especially rich reverberating within the walls of the Sky Church. (Should the EMP have paired you as the younguns with '70s band Yes as the influencers? Are they still around?) Songs were trippy and thrilling, and your voice sounded great. But, strangely, there was barely any interaction with the audience. You seemed... nervous, anxious, or maybe just uncomfortable.

It wasn't until the encore that you seemed to relax: leaving the stage with the microphone, from just out-of-sight, you taunted the audience, playfully. "C'mon, give it up for Steve Malkmus and the Jicks!" you bellowed, in a faux-sports announcer style. "They drove all the way from Portland! Let's show 'em the love!"

Once you came back up on stage, you introduced the band, including "Seattle's own" Clark. "He went to The Bush School," you informed us. "Named for George Bush... and the band, Bush." For bassist Joanna Bolme: "She's a living part of Nirvana's history. She played for the band in Argentina when she was in Calamity Jane." (I looked it up; it's true!)

After a pretty cute moment where you freaked out over the encore ("We don't have a plan!" you panicked, throwing your hands in the air), the audience got one helluva treat: "Lions (Linden)" off the 1992 Pavement debut EP Watery, Domestic. (Who was expecting that?!) The elegant "Freeze the Saints" closed out the night with Clark on piano and you on vocals, and for the first time all evening, you looked like you were having fun.

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