Stephen Malkmus has always approached music like a fast-learning alien virtuoso who’s only recently been introduced to both the guitar and the English language, and with his interests having tended toward stoner rock for a number of years now, it would make sense that he’s invented some idiosyncratic soloing techniques. He plays electric guitar solos with his thumb and index finger like he’s picking a bluegrass hoedown, and cleanly miked acoustic guitar solos with a pick and a raggedness that one would typically deploy alongside quite a bit of distortion. Regardless — no one at the Music Hall of Williamsburg last night had any problem with the quirks of Malkmus-brand shreddage.
The erstwhile Pavement front man and his backing band, the Jicks, pretty much gave the audience all it could handle: When they were done with the vicious garage-rock jam at the end of “Baltimore,” the third song of their encore, everyone in the crowd simply turned on their heels and headed for the exits without waiting for the lights to go on. Well, you can’t top that, you could hear them thinking. Perhaps one show can’t single-handedly elevate an album to classic status, but if the band’s previous two nights at the Bowery Ballroom were as fierce as yesterday’s show, there are probably a lot of impressed New York City bartenders doing whatever it is one does to add a new disc to the jukebox. When an icon with a back catalogue of beloved tunes plays a set almost exclusively picked from his new album and receives nothing but love and devil horns in return, then that album probably deserves a space between Songs for the Deaf and Back in Black. Special credit for this achievement must naturally be shared with the Jicks: bassist Joanna Bolme, drummer Janet Weiss (who, of course, powered Sleater-Kinney for many years), and especially guitarist Mike Clark, who managed to adeptly match Malkmus’s phrasing in the guitar duets that punctuate songs like “Dragonfly Pie.” That must be difficult, for someone raised on Earth. —Ben Mathis-Lilley