For Pavement to finally put on a solid live show in town, all it took were two different 10-year hiatuses and a venue not better suited to quilting conventions.
Usually a discombobulated and sometimes even disengaged live band back in their '90s heyday, the nerdishly adored indie-rockers from Stockton, Calif., offered up an atypically steady and enthusiastic performance Wednesday night at a packed Palace Theatre in St. Paul. It may have been their best performance ever in the Twin Cities.
Pavement's last time in town on their 2010 reunion tour was actually pretty good, too. However, fans had a hard time appreciating it in the notoriously cruddy Roy Wilkins Auditorium — which guitarist Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg referred to as "that weird hall" during this show.
Funny how much better the Palace has proved to be for concerts in the capital city, even though it was built a quarter-century before the Wilkins and shuttered for 30 years before its 2017 reopening.
Wednesday's set sounded absolutely terrific. Kannberg's coolly off-kilter guitar work with frontman Stephen Malkmus at times rang out more crisply and melodically than on their lo-fi albums. New keyboardist Rebecca Cole (Wild Flag) also added some nice layering.
As if emphasizing the richer sound, the band seemed to avoid their fan-loved but rustic 1992 debut album, "Slanted and Enchanted," pulling only three songs from it: "Zurich Is Stained," "Trigger Cut" and "Two States." They saved the latter for the finale and sweetly dedicated it to late Twin Cities rock guru Ed Ackerson (Polara, BNLX).
More heavily represented in the setlist were their subsequent records, "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain" and "Wowee Zowee." They delivered the former's single "Cut Your Hair" — their biggest hit, modestly speaking — right away as the second song, and then used "Stop Breathin" as the pre-encore finale. In between, both "Gold Soundz" and "Range Life" sparked nostalgic, swaying singalongs.
Malkmus didn't soften the disparaging lyrics against former tourmates Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots in "Range Life," as he suggested he'd do in a recent interview. But he did alter the part about "the pigs, the fuzz, the cops, the heat," inserting the extra line, "All cops are bastards."
From "Wowee Zowee," the bombastic blaster "Serpentine Pad" became a fun showpiece for the band's Iowa-based percussionist/yeller Bob Nastanovich, whose outbursts seem more unhinged yet more charming with age. Kannberg took over the mic for "Kennel District," and the band rose up around him.
Ostensibly catering to the nerdiest of their record-collector fan base, the group also dropped in several deep cuts from EPs and bonus editions. Highlights included the 1992 kiss-off anthem "Box Elder" and the short-but-sweet "Wowee" outtake "Gangsters and Pranksters."
Coming a decade since the end of Pavement's prior decadelong hiatus, Wednesday's show seemed to be as much fun for the often aloof Malkmus and his bandmates as it was for fans. That, too, was a key ingredient. If they can keep up that zeal on their end, there's no reason for another 10-year gap.