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Gonzo Report: Pavement open first U.S. tour in 12 years at the Balboa Theatre

Sitting down for the slacker rock kings

Getting the band back together again: Pavement
Getting the band back together again: Pavement

In the 1990s, Pavement personified aloof, slacker rock, anchored by odd guitar tunings and clever lyrics. They were more critical darlings than the sort of band that could muster a following to rival that of Nirvana or Green Day. But like the Pixies, their fanbase expanded after the band broke up. They reunited ten years after dissolving for a run of 2010 shows, and I attended two of them. One was fantastic, the other was abysmal. I kept this in mind when purchasing tickets for their recent concert at the Balboa Theatre. The safe bets were front row balcony seats at $55 a pop. Dropping $55 to witness a trainwreck wouldn’t be as painful as spending $100+ for an up-close view of the disaster.

Place

Balboa Theatre

868 Fourth Avenue, San Diego

Happily, this one was closer to fantastic. The first song they played was “Grounded,” a slow-rolling, hypnotic gem off their 1995 album Wowee Zowee. The next, “Harness Your Hopes,” is a livelier tune that showcases the band at their silliest, including lyrical forays such as “Well, show me a word that rhymes with pavement, and I won’t kill your parents and roast them on a spit.” Originally a late-career B-side, online algorithms would have you believe it’s their most popular song (81 million streams). However, the audience, which seemed to skew 35-50-ish, was definitely more keen to hear semi-hits like “Cut Your Hair,” “Range Life,” and “Gold Soundz” — the songs that they remembered from the ‘90s.

Sponsored
Sponsored

I spotted Mariel guitarist Opie Tran, who had snagged a free ticket to the show and was situated near the very back row of the balcony — basically the nosebleeds at this gig. Circa 1998, when he was 16, a hip boss turned him onto the band, but he never became a mega-fan. That being said, he still dug the songs enough to seek out a ticket. He seemed most impressed by Bob Nastanovich, an auxiliary player and hype man for Pavement most often found onstage rocking a small drum kit. “Not quite the hired gun, but he just kind of fills in the gap,” said Tran. “He almost comes off like the drunk friend that they invited along to play with them.” The latter opinion may have been formed after witnessing Nastanovich’s screaming lead vocals on “Unfair,” one of the most loco and crowd-pleasing songs in the Pavement catalog: “Walk with your credit card in the air! Swing your nachos like you just don’t care! This is the slow sick sucking part of me!”

Tran mentioned that some Gen-Z’ers were dancing and singing along near him, but most of the moving and grooving seemed to be on the floor level, and I espied ample gray hair in the mix. There might have been more twenty-somethings at the show if tickets hadn’t sold out the day they went on sale — almost surely the result of this being the opening night for the band’s first U.S. tour in 12 years. We longtime Pavement fans are slowly transforming into what we once hated, the boomers of the ‘80s and ‘90s, as we buy up all the expensive concert tickets to see our favorite bands of yesteryear before the youths can get their wrinkle-free hands on them.

Even the venue — the Balboa Theatre, the sort of place that puts the “r” before the “e” — seemed a bit posh for the kings of slacker (slackre?) rock. Seeing a band like Pavement at a venue with seats was just weird from the get-go. This is a group designed for general admission seating (i.e., standing) and maybe a good wall to lean on if you get lucky. Not all of us old heads are eager to enter the Masterpiece Theater (or Theatre) era of our concert-going experience.

But in the end, I sat and occasionally screamed along to some of my favorite verses and had a fine time. My feet and back weren’t sore at the end of the night, so maybe this sitting and watching bands play isn’t a bad deal. Nah, it’s terrible. Standing is always better than sitting when you’re watching a band you love, that’s just plain science. Still, Pavement concert newbie Tran was more comfortable seated. “Just being selfish; I like that venue because it has seats,” he offered, explaining that sitting had enhanced his enjoyment of the band.

On the spending front, the $14 beers and $35 tee shirts were optional purchases. Among the most pleasant surprises was the flat-rate, no-validation $10 parking in the garage under the NBC building near the venue. Not that raving about cheap and easy parking makes me sound old or anything.

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Getting the band back together again: Pavement
Getting the band back together again: Pavement

In the 1990s, Pavement personified aloof, slacker rock, anchored by odd guitar tunings and clever lyrics. They were more critical darlings than the sort of band that could muster a following to rival that of Nirvana or Green Day. But like the Pixies, their fanbase expanded after the band broke up. They reunited ten years after dissolving for a run of 2010 shows, and I attended two of them. One was fantastic, the other was abysmal. I kept this in mind when purchasing tickets for their recent concert at the Balboa Theatre. The safe bets were front row balcony seats at $55 a pop. Dropping $55 to witness a trainwreck wouldn’t be as painful as spending $100+ for an up-close view of the disaster.

Place

Balboa Theatre

868 Fourth Avenue, San Diego

Happily, this one was closer to fantastic. The first song they played was “Grounded,” a slow-rolling, hypnotic gem off their 1995 album Wowee Zowee. The next, “Harness Your Hopes,” is a livelier tune that showcases the band at their silliest, including lyrical forays such as “Well, show me a word that rhymes with pavement, and I won’t kill your parents and roast them on a spit.” Originally a late-career B-side, online algorithms would have you believe it’s their most popular song (81 million streams). However, the audience, which seemed to skew 35-50-ish, was definitely more keen to hear semi-hits like “Cut Your Hair,” “Range Life,” and “Gold Soundz” — the songs that they remembered from the ‘90s.

Sponsored
Sponsored

I spotted Mariel guitarist Opie Tran, who had snagged a free ticket to the show and was situated near the very back row of the balcony — basically the nosebleeds at this gig. Circa 1998, when he was 16, a hip boss turned him onto the band, but he never became a mega-fan. That being said, he still dug the songs enough to seek out a ticket. He seemed most impressed by Bob Nastanovich, an auxiliary player and hype man for Pavement most often found onstage rocking a small drum kit. “Not quite the hired gun, but he just kind of fills in the gap,” said Tran. “He almost comes off like the drunk friend that they invited along to play with them.” The latter opinion may have been formed after witnessing Nastanovich’s screaming lead vocals on “Unfair,” one of the most loco and crowd-pleasing songs in the Pavement catalog: “Walk with your credit card in the air! Swing your nachos like you just don’t care! This is the slow sick sucking part of me!”

Tran mentioned that some Gen-Z’ers were dancing and singing along near him, but most of the moving and grooving seemed to be on the floor level, and I espied ample gray hair in the mix. There might have been more twenty-somethings at the show if tickets hadn’t sold out the day they went on sale — almost surely the result of this being the opening night for the band’s first U.S. tour in 12 years. We longtime Pavement fans are slowly transforming into what we once hated, the boomers of the ‘80s and ‘90s, as we buy up all the expensive concert tickets to see our favorite bands of yesteryear before the youths can get their wrinkle-free hands on them.

Even the venue — the Balboa Theatre, the sort of place that puts the “r” before the “e” — seemed a bit posh for the kings of slacker (slackre?) rock. Seeing a band like Pavement at a venue with seats was just weird from the get-go. This is a group designed for general admission seating (i.e., standing) and maybe a good wall to lean on if you get lucky. Not all of us old heads are eager to enter the Masterpiece Theater (or Theatre) era of our concert-going experience.

But in the end, I sat and occasionally screamed along to some of my favorite verses and had a fine time. My feet and back weren’t sore at the end of the night, so maybe this sitting and watching bands play isn’t a bad deal. Nah, it’s terrible. Standing is always better than sitting when you’re watching a band you love, that’s just plain science. Still, Pavement concert newbie Tran was more comfortable seated. “Just being selfish; I like that venue because it has seats,” he offered, explaining that sitting had enhanced his enjoyment of the band.

On the spending front, the $14 beers and $35 tee shirts were optional purchases. Among the most pleasant surprises was the flat-rate, no-validation $10 parking in the garage under the NBC building near the venue. Not that raving about cheap and easy parking makes me sound old or anything.

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