Saturday, November 20, 2010

Pavement - Slanted & Enchanted: Luxe & Reduxe (RS500 - #134)

I got into Pavement sort of ass-backwards, but as it turned out, it was exactly the right way to understand the band.

I learned about the band during that six-month period back in 1993 that I mentioned in my earlier post on The Starlings, just before I left for New Zealand [in hindsight - damn, but there was a lot of good music floating around back then!]. I don't recall hearing them on the radio; I must have read something about them in one of the music magazines I regularly perused back then, like Spin or the NME. Or maybe there was something about them in the DC City Paper that I saw - I just don't recall. Back then, more than now, there were music critics and commentators whose judgment I trusted implicitly; if they said something was good, that was usually good enough for me. So I must've come to the band through something like that, because I purchased the first Pavement album I came across, Westing (By Musket & Sextant), before I'd ever heard a note of their music.
[or, at least I THINK I'd never heard one of their songs up to that point . . . I say this because back in October 1991, my friend Camob came out from California to visit the DC area, and we ended up doing the town a couple of nights, hitting the old college bars along M Street that used to cater to Georgetown students (all of them now long gone) and checking out our old music haunts. We spent a couple of hours in the old 9:30 Club on F Street one evening, listening to some no-name band play . . . and it was years later, after thinking about it, that I became pretty sure that, during their set, those guys played a version of Pavement's "Texas Never Whispers", a year before it came out on the Watery, Domestic EP. I could be wrong . . . but I don't think I am.]
As far as I knew, Westing was Pavement's first album. I listened to it constantly that spring and summer, at home in the DC area and at my new home in New Zealand. Several songs entered heavy rotation on my personal playlist, including "Box Elder" and "Forklift".

Christchurch, New Zealand is pretty well off the beaten path, as far as American acts are concerned; when a Stateside act arrives down that way, it's pretty big news (which explains why I inexplicably paid my hard-earned money to see Tina Turner, of all people, play at Lancaster Park during my first month there . . .). So I felt incredibly lucky when, browsing the local paper one day about two months into my Kiwi residency, I noticed a small ad announcing that Pavement was actually coming to play a show in town. I was so shocked, I stopped, went back and slowly scanned the ad again, just in case I had misread the name. But no, it turned out to be true - a decent indie band that I was just getting fully into was heading my way!

At about the same time I heard about the upcoming show, I discovered that Westing wasn't the band's first album - it was just a compilation of early singles and EPs. Their first official disc was Slanted & Enchanted, released by Matador Records in April 1992 (although copies had been distributed to selected DJs and music critics as early as the spring/summer of 1991 - which makes my conviction that I heard "Texas Never Whispers" a year before its official release not as far-fetched as it appears . . .). I found a copy of the album at Echo Records downtown and took it home to begin absorbing it.

As much as I loved Westing, Slanted & Enchanted COMPLETELY blew me away. EVERY song on the album was strong, and I quickly discovered several new Pavement favorites that began being played constantly around the house and in my car - "Perfume V", "Two States", "Summer Babe" (which sounds almost identical to the one on Westing), and especially "Here", in my opinion one of the three best songs Pavement ever did (along with "Shoot The Singer" and "Box Elder").

By the date of their show in town, I was fully conversant in their music.

However, I still didn't know much about the band, or the players themselves, outside of their names. So I went to the packed show, fought my way to a space near the front, and suffered through the opening band, some no-name Christchurch locals. The following band, who I assumed to be Pavement, came on and started playing. And all through the first part of their set I'm shouting out song names for them to play - "'Box Elder'!" "'Two States'!" The band is giving me dirty looks all the while, and it finally dawned on me that they weren't Pavement; they were Bailter Space, a rightly renowned Kiwi band that, at the time, I knew nothing about. I'd never been to a show that had two opening acts before the headliner, so I made an assumption - a poor one, as it turned out (hell, I didn't know - it's not like there were band pictures in the CD inserts!).

Pavement finally came on, and of course they were absolutely great. The crowd there was going wild - say what you will about the assumed provincialism of New Zealanders, but I gotta tell you: Kiwis KNOW their music. They played everything I hoped they'd play, and more. I left that show a rabid Pavement fan, and from then on was on a mission to track down all of their EPs and obscure 7"s. And to add to this embarrassment of Pavement riches, the band RETURNED to Christchurch less than a year later, for a show at the Caladonian Hall down the street from the Park Royal Hotel - another great show.

For me, this album was Pavement's peak. Their following releases - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain, Wowee Zowee, Brighten The Corners - have all been critically acclaimed, but to me they all seem to lack the grit, spark and urgency of their earlier material. Others seem to think so as well - in 2002, Slanted & Enchanted was the first of Pavement's albums to get the Deluxe Edition treatment, adding a second disc of B-sides and live versions from that era to the original release. I'm frankly stunned that Rolling Stone would rank this album as high as it did - in my mind, it's more than deserving of this recognition, but I never thought the band's music was 'commercial' enough or accessible enough to warrant widespread recognition like this. Guess I was wrong again . . . and thankfully so this time.

Here it is - the Deluxe Edition, for your listening pleasure. As always, I appreciate your comments:

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  1. Great site, fantastic music, outstanding articles! Thanks, I'll be back!

  2. I have the original pressings of Slanted, Crooked Rain, and Wowee Zowee. found at a garage sale, snagged for $10 on a deal of 3. Absolute steal. Looking down the archive list I noticed this album and had to comment... my coworker considers Pavement to be the best band of the 90s.. Right now these babies are in my collection in the "featured" section. The original only had the keys on the CD.

    1. I have to salute your coworker - I too believe that Pavement was one of the best bands of the '90s. However, they started losing me a wee bit beginning with Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. I LOVED.this band in their scratchy, noisy, lo-fi, experimental beginning - Slanted & Enfhanted and the Westing comp are, I feel, classics, and still hold up well today. For me, Pavement got a little more 'traditional alt-rock' (to coin a phrase) after they booted Gary Young. True, Young wasn't the guy who was going to take the band to the next level… but it seemed that his spirit of semi-controlled anarchy infused itself into Pavement's music, and after he left a lot of that went away. Still, I enjoy the band's later output - just not as much as their early stuff. I'm sort of glad they didn't continue in that noise-rock thing - there are only so many directions you can go from there - either hard (like The Dead C) or soft (like The Jesus & Mary Chain). They forged their own path without taking into regard the desires of old fans, and it worked for them and got them plenty of new fans. So more power to them. Thanks for the comment!