Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks Lee's Palace, Toronto ON, February 22

Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks Lee's Palace, Toronto ON, February 22
Photo: Matthew Ritchie
While most Torontonians were calling it an early night in anticipation for the following day's gold medal hockey game, a select handful of indie rock disciples penetrated the cramped confines of Toronto's Lee's Palace for an intimate sold-out performance from Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks.

With doors opening to the venue around 9pm, the dance floor filled up early as fans vied for a spot at the front of the stage. Warming up the crowd was an opening set from Chicago-based post-rock practitioners Disappears, whose brand of dissonant Krautrock transfixed listeners thanks to its rhythm-heavy grooves. While their set lacked the melody-centric riffs most Malkmus fans probably would have come to expect from one of his openers — frontman Brian Case barely played a traditional note the entire set, sticking mostly to atonal whacks on the bridge of his guitar — the crowd couldn't help but involuntarily lurch side to side as bassist Damon Carruesco held the band firmly in place with his minimalist riffs and drummer Noah Leger pounded away through his punk rock-meets-tribal tom fills.

After a brief intermission during which old school punk rock and esoteric hardcore pummeled the sound system, the Eric Clapton of the slacker generation himself, Stephen Malkmus, joined the stage alongside his fellow Jicks to a round of hoots and applause. Relying heavily on their recently released LP, Wig Out at Jagbags and 2011's Mirror Traffic, the Portland-bred quartet blazed through renditions of "Tigers" and "Planetary Emotion" before moving on to new crowd favourite "Rumble at the Rainbow," which was boldly sung along to by a group of graying hipsters who seemed somewhat unaware of the song's tongue-in-cheek depiction of nostalgic, hardcore man-childs who long for their salad days.

Continuing on with an electrified variation of the plaintive "No One Is (As I Are Be)" and a shambolic "Spazz," the band struggled to stay in sync, sloppily succumbing to offbeat riffs and frivolous guitar noodling by the band's mastermind; if bassist Joanna Bolme hadn't been steadily anchoring everything in place, the show would have probably sounded half as coherent.

While Pavement made a lasting impression on a generation in part because of their sloppy songwriting and freewheeling performances, the bulk of Malkmus' new material demands a bit more precision; watching the indie rock guitar god play fingerpicked renditions of his riffs in person is captivating for a little while, but over time, Malkmus' spontaneous dalliances can sound a bit cumbersome (although classic solo tracks like "Jenny & The Ess-Dog" and "Phantasies" were particularly spot-on).

Recent hits like "Senator" and "Houston Hades" got some of the biggest reactions of the evening, and even though at this point in his career Malkmus has been solo longer than a member of Pavement, fans obviously still secretly wish they were seeing them instead, as evidenced by the fact the loudest screams of the night came from an impromptu encore rendition of Brighten the Corners opener "Stereo."

Finishing their set with an extended free-form jam that featured moments of Malkmus screaming wildly into his microphone, dropping his guitar to the floor and standing perfectly still for over two minutes, he left the stage rather abruptly as the remainder of the Jicks stood plugging away, unsure if their bandleader would return to finish their ten-plus minute song. Bored with their improvisation, the rest of the group left shortly thereafter. Although it was a noble effort on the backing band's part, it was obvious something was wrong with their captain most of the night, as he muttered to them in frequent asides and stumbled with his earplugs on more than one occasion. Ending with more of a wimper than a bang, it was clear there was room for improvement in the Jicks camp.

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