It’s my first time in the re-sited Riverside and it doesn’t much look like the original venue which was a little way along the river and where I saw Nirvana supporting an obscure grunge band called Tad in the early 90’s. Twenty years down the line I have to say the only thing that I can remember about the kings of Seattle, Nirvana, is that they were VERY LOUD! I’m sure that a younger Kurt Cobaine was listening to Pavement around that time who were were active then. Happily Malkmus looks in pretty good health and his travelling band of minstrels stroll on to the stage shortly after 9pm to the strains of classic pop oldie “Cinderella Rockerfella” and slam into a brand new tune that lurches along in grand style. The whole band looked relaxed and happy with the grin rarely leaving the drummer Jake Morris’ face. They thunder through the new piece and come to a raggedy ending that leaves them all grinning and bassist Joanna Bolme laughingly telling us “St. Vincent won’t be opening with a new song that she doesn’t know” (a reference to the hip new priestess who’s also playing in Newcastle tonight). They thump on and into a mighty tune that features some more fabulous loud and fractured splintering guitar from Malkmus and a very abrupt ending. I’m something of a novice when it comes to Malkmus’ solo material but it’s clear that he remains edgy and on fiery form and is still prepared to take chances. Half way through this firestorm of a set there’s a beautiful ballad that begins with some plaintive solo piano and Malkmus’ fractured voice that works up to another guitar frenzy calling to mind Husker Du and the Pixies. Fine stuff.
Malkmus is in good humour making cracks about Newcastle and the preponderance of bridges along the river. He asks if there’s anyone in from a Hull and gets a few cheers (legend has it he’s a Hull City supporter.) He claims that it was in Newcastle where he first tasted the delights of quorn. I suspect it was an in joke directed at bass player Joanna Bolme as she responded that quorn was a “great source of protein – don’t make fun of it” to which Stephen replies “Well, Justin Bieber is an excellent source of protein and I make fun of him” to guffaws all around.
They deliver a cover by a legendary Portland band The Vipers with another Newcastle reference when they describe them as “The Maximo Park of Portland” to cheers from the crowd. The band’s sound is tight and structured but they comfortably blaze away with huge slabs of sound that sometimes calls Television, at their finest, to mind. The only song title I catch in this maelstrom is towards the end – “The Janitor Revealed” – and it’s a superb squall of sound and power. I move myself onto the balcony for a couple of songs and can see the delight on many of the crowds faces as Malkmus jokes around with them. After around 90 minutes the band head offstage leaving Stephen to bizarrely tell us “There’s no need to clap – we’ll be back in a minute.” The crowd take him at his word and remain fairly subdued and after a few minutes they return and Makmus tells us “Here’s a song by a Newcastle band” before throwing out a splintered version of Roxy Music’s “Mother of Pearl” with some wailing guitar and a slew of half forgotten lyrics but it works well. The crowd are happy with this but a couple of jokers shout for “Fog on the Tyne” – fearful that they might actually play it I decide to stroll off into the night. An excellent show.
Reviewer: Greg Johnson
Photographer: Graeme Baty