NEW YORK – Four sold-out shows at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre. A new band member and an expanded live set. Momentum from unlikely followers gained while the band was on hiatus.
Pavement, reunited for the first time in 12 years, is back at it — again — and more popular than ever.
Pavement was once the '90s quintessential indie rock band, effusing an air of equal parts defiance and nonchalance, half-singing erudite lyrics while flashing an in-the-know glance.
“It’s pretty amazing to see the energy that people — or Pavement fans, I suppose — have for this band, over 30 years since its inception," said percussionist Bob Nastanovich. "I mean, it’s not like we weren’t liked. We’ve always had very loyal fans. In droves seems to be the different aspect.”
Launched in Stockton, California, in the late 1980s by guitarist/singer Stephen Malkmus, guitarist Scott “Spiral Stairs” Kannberg and studio owner/drummer Gary Young, Pavement referenced everything from Swell Maps to The Eagles in their songs. But it was always more about how they translated those influences into their own sonic language.
Throughout their 10-year run, during which they grew to include Nastanovich, bassist Mark Ibold and drummer Steve West, they released five albums and earned cult status among fans. They were loved for their loose approach, tangled resonance, shrouded pop sensibility and seemingly off-the-cuff mindset in live shows.
Still, aside from the semi-hit “Cut Your Hair,” they never got too big, and the band split up at the turn of the century as Malkmus set off on his own career, now nine albums deep. His guitar playing has moved into master-class territory, and he now runs a tighter ship on stage with his band The Jicks.
After years of indicating they would never get back together, Pavement reconvened for a world tour in 2010, and then went separate ways again. Kannberg has stayed in bands and released his own music and that of others, while West is a stonemason in Richmond, Virginia, and Ibold is a bartender in Brooklyn.
Nastanovich, based in Des Moines, Iowa, has a podcast called “3 Songs” and works in horse racing. To prove to people in the racing industry that he was in Pavement, he sometimes had to Google the band and show them pictures.
But then something unexpected happened: TikTok. “Harness Your Hopes” — a B-side released in 1999 — went viral with more than 10 million views of people dancing, lip-syncing or posting about the song. It’s also the top Pavement track on Spotify.
“Maybe in hindsight it would have been a successful single, but it’s always good to let your audience figure out what your hits are," Nastanovich said.
Malkmus joked during one of the recent Brooklyn shows that no one told the band members back in the day that “Harness Your Hopes” was a hit. Adds Nastanovich, “It’s kind of nice to have sort of a funny song that we play every night that makes people smile and dance.”
The band also added a new member, keyboardist Rebecca Cole, also of the band Wild Flag. “She is a very good vibe, and she allows us to play about 15 to 20 more songs well than what we played in 2010,” said Nastanovich.
An international museum exhibition, “Pavements 1933-2022,” opened at a gallery in lower Manhattan this month tracing the band’s history though flyers, artwork, notebooks and videos. A few advertisements showed the band’s reach — and depth — in the 1990s. There's Malkmus strumming a broom like a guitar for Apple’s “Think Different” campaign, a play on their “Wowee Zowee” album cover art for Absolut Vodka, and promotions for “Got Milk?” and America’s Libraries.
Younger artists Snail Mail, Lucy Dacus and Soccer Mommy played Pavement songs at the exhibition.
“More than anything else, it seems like the people who care about the band are very genuine and it’s just interesting to see such an amazing span of ages,” Nastanovich enthused. “It’s just amazing to me that over the past 12 years, Pavement has for some reason continued to gather steam.”