A semi-reclusive band led by David Berman that have played fewer shows since 1989 than most bands play in a typical summer tour, the hour-plus set by the six-person incarnation is fierce, beautiful and vivid.
But seeing Berman try to wrangle semi-estranged SJ co-founder Stephen Malkmus (who played an opening set) on-stage is like watching a pig-headed kid refuse to eat vegetables in a crowded restaurant. Malkmus waves him off twice from the wings before Berman jogs off-stage to have it out face-to-face in the VIP corral.
Malkmus won't budge. Berman tries it again at the encore. After a tense moment that seems moments away from becoming either a wrestling match or a fistfight, Malkmus reluctantly ambles onstage for two closers.
Yes, Stephen Malkmus did wave David Berman off a few times before joining the band on stage for an encore. But anyone who has witnessed his sometimes prickly stage persona in Pavement and as a solo artist knows that he was delighted to be part of last night's proceedings. He appeared to be inebriated, certainly -- an impediment to guitar playing more than singing -- and reluctant to direct the audience's attention back to him. That doesn't mean he was being an arrogant jerk, though. As much as I love his music, I know he has the potential to be one. What happened last night, though, was a pas-de-deux of brotherly love. Apparently, Richard Shirk missed Malkmus's set, which concluded with Stephen bringing Berman on stage for a duet. His loss. Seeing Malkmus play his intricate songs solo, with no band to fall back on, brought their winning complexity to light. And he played "Trigger Cut" and two songs off the superlative Watery, Domestic EP. Not to mention that, when he finally did join the Silver Jews on stage, he gave the last two songs his inimitable vocal stamp without detracting from the hard-won groove of Berman's new band. Seeing Berman come up behind him at the end and give him a bear hug? Priceless.