Regardless, we were at Mercy Lounge for Malkmus and his Jicks — and not just because of Pavement's indelible imprint on modern music. Sure, that's part of it. But the fact is, the Jicks' Beck-produced Mirror Traffic is one of The Spin's favorite releases of 2011 thus far, and after seeing The Lemonheads' mortifying attempt at reproducing It's a Shame About Ray in the very same room the previous night, we needed a good dose of non-disappointment. Now, as far as seeing Beck goes ... that would just be a kinda fun little cherry on the sonic sundae.
We entered as Portlanders Holy Sons were settling into their set, which alternated between dreamy, laid-back psychedelia and bluesy rock grooves. The Sons were pretty tight — both in their playing and in their relative proximity to one another — trading off near-virtuosic (but not quite) matched licks, tempo shifts and pedal-augmented riffs. Jicks drummer Jake Morris even sat in on bass for a down-tempo number so that the Sons' bassist could move over to pedal steel. Pretty solid stuff.
Around that time, we moved to the bar, where we found Mercy Lounge's brand-new celebrity bar back, How I Became the Bomb's Jon Burr, scrambling around and doing what looked like his first honest day's work ever. Toward its end, Holy Sons' set began to devolve into more of a free-form jam fest than we're typically comfortable with, and we definitely heard the lyric "You're no good" repeated several times. (To our dismay, they weren't merely covering Linda Ronstadt's "You're No Good.")
Shortly after Holy Sons wrapped, we noticed an outpouring of Americana folk from Cannery downstairs. Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin had just wrapped their sold-out show, which we'd heard was augmented by a guest appearance from the one and only Robert Plant. (One Cannery/Mercy employee told us he'd met the Bermuda-short-adorned Plant earlier in the evening. By the way, 60-plus-year-old rock legends are allowed to wear Bermuda shorts if they so please.)
But Mercy was somewhere in the neighborhood of 70 percent full (it felt that way, anyhow), when Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks appeared onstage, with Malkmus launching into that characteristic anticlimactic banter of his. "The Eagles ruined Nashville," said Malkmus after describing the plethora of industry types who were apparently staying at the Sheraton along with him and his band. "Fuck the Eagles." From there, SM and his soldiers ripped through a set of gloriously sloppy latter-day indie rock, playing almost entirely songs from Mirror Traffic (like we said, we dig that record). Between new jams like "Senator" and "Tigers," Malkmus quipped about matters such as the aforementioned Lemonheads show, inferring that frontman "Dirty Deeds Dando" must have had "his finger up his capo."
At roughly this point in the set, we ventured from the front of the room to the bar, where we found — yep, you guessed it — the illustrious Mr. Beck chilling with his svelte little frame and a fedora atop his impossibly youthful-looking noggin. Beck's mere presence was causing something of an orbital pull in the bar vicinity, and while we certainly felt the urge to shuffle toward him and shout, "Hey! 'Loser'!" with our index finger extended, we had an easy "Fuck that" moment once we realized that the Jicks were playing "Stick Figures in Love." That riff alone is worth the price of Mirror Traffic. If, you know, you're still into buying records.
The Jicks brought out Holy Sons' bassist to contribute some pedal steel on tunes like "Long Hard Book" and "No One Is (as I Are Be)," and while we'll concede that the back half of most of the Jicks' newer tunes land on the extended, somewhat wanky side, it's still Stephen Malkmus playing guitar. Stephen Malkmus. Playing guitar. And through all of it, his band — arranged in a tight little cluster that almost made them look like they were performing in a living room — matched him wonderfully. We almost didn't even notice that Janet Weiss isn't in the band anymore.
What else? Oh, central Silver Jew/longtime Malkmus bro David Berman was there, though he certainly didn't cause quite the attention singularity that Beck did. Also, they covered Sweet's "Love Is Like Oxygen" — y'know, the one people typically think is an ELO song. We'll just leave it at this: We enjoyed the shit out of ourselves. Maybe it's easy for us to get a bit lost in the Malkmusian slipstream of riffage and lyrical whimsy, and maybe Malkmus' attitude seems a tiny bit like he's on a perpetual victory lap. But we saw and heard what we came to see and hear. The fact that Beck — who, we're told, got carded by a security guard at one point — was in attendance was kinda neat, too.