It seems fair to suggest that Pavement was vastly underappreciated by the masses while they were around, and slipped silently into obscurity following the announcement of their break-up at the end of 1999. For those of us who can't quite find comfort in Stephen Malkmus's latest project and would rather swim in our sorrowful memories of yesteryear, the fine people at Matador and Plexifilm have delivered the indie-rock promised land -- the penultimate audio-visual document of the career of college rock's favourite sons.|
Pavement: Slow Century is a double-disc DVD anthology of all things Pavement, ranging from videos to live material to a documentary that functions as the final word on the history of this vastly influential outfit. Lance Bangs, videomaker and indie-hipster, worked on compiling this collection for several years. The set was in production for so long, in fact, that it began as a project before the band called it quits. Month in and month out, the Pavement faithful coped with delay announcement after delay announcement explaining that the anthology was on its way -- just not as planned. The result of all of these stops and starts was a rather timid release within a musical climate that seems about as far removed from Pavement's heyday as one could imagine. (Is anyone prepared to conceive a touring summer concert festival with Avril Lavigne side-by-side on the main stage with the creators of Wowee Zowee?)
Luckily, through it all, Bangs has preserved his original vision, which was the documentation (and preservation) of one of the most interestingly twisted star-trajectories in alternative music history. The centerpiece of the anthology is his "Slow Century" documentary. Compiling archival footage, backstage material, recording sessions and all manner of Pavement oddities, the film features the band discussing both their future after the release of Terror Twilight and acknowledging their break-up with awkward silences and distanced anecdotes. An additional audio commentary by the band really accents the material and clarifies the context in which the new material for the documentary was recorded (pre-Terror Twilight tour) and when the commentary tracks were completed.
The inclusion of the group's thirteen music videos really underscores how decidedly unmarketable the band was in terms of mainstream sensibilities. Almost without exception, the clips communicate an abstract irreverence and a back-handed slap in the face of popular video form. From the frog prince of "Cut Your Hair" to the headless, singing corpse of "Shady Lane", Malkmus seems genuinely unconcerned with connecting with his audience -- an opinion echoed by both the band and the video directors who appear on separate audio commentary tracks. The high-profile team responsible for "Cut Your Hair" speak disparagingly about the group and their constructed detachment, while the group use the commentary to tear the duo to ribbons. Spike Jonze timidly questions the band's interest in his clip for "Shady Lane", a thought Malkmus confirms on the alternate track by stating his displeasure outright. In the cases where commentary is provided by alt-rock luminaries such as Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon, the group's integrity and humble ingenuity is thoughtfully examined. It all makes for a very engaging and highly entertaining viewing experience.
Disc two features two complete concerts, the latter of the two a November 1999 performance in Manchester that would prove to be the band's second-to-last gig. The last three songs the group ever performed -- the following evening, November 20th, at the Brixton Academy -- are included on disc one as the finale of "Slow Century". For fans, it's a heartbreaking experience; the entire set-list seems to drip with a melancholy later confirmed upon hearing Malkmus's fragile farewell at the conclusion of the Slanted and Enchanted classic, "The End". To this very day, I can remember the feeling in the pit of my stomach as I read the online edition of NME on the morning of November 22nd, the headline blazing "Cracks in the Pavement". For those of us who felt Pavement were the beginning and the end of the alt-universe, the news was devastating. With the release of Slow Century, however, the memories come rushing back, with all the requisite dissonance, technical glitches, boyish charm and sardonic wit.
And we always have the albums.
-- Mike Baker