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TV’s Most Surreal Performances – Pavement on ‘The Tonight Show’

What you see here, ladies and gentlemen, is Pavement‘s peak in their climb toward mainstream success. Pavement just flew too close to the sun, we guess. One might argue, though, that band leader Stephen Malkmus, the fellow in the video who appears to be wearing eyeliner, seems unconcerned with impressing the Jay Leno crowd. If anything, Malkmus exudes an air of contempt. To be fair, though, that’s always kinda been his thing.

Starting out a song on ‘The Tonight Show With Jay Leno’ by making a bunch of weird noises into the microphone? C’mon, Malkmus, where’s the class in that? In contrast to Malkmus’ flippant attitude, co-singer and guitarist Spiral Stairs seems pretty stoked to be on TV. While Malkmus is banging randomly on open strings, Spiral Stairs is diligently singing his “ooh ooh oohs” and keeping everything nice and tight.

‘Cut Your Hair,’ from the 1994 album ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain,’ gained a little mainstream traction when it was released. The music video got some airplay on MTV, and the song was a minor college-radio hit. This single also seemed to mark a turning point for the band sonically. Pavement began to move away from the detuned guitars and noise jams, slowly but steadily opting for a cleaner, more polished sound.

The albums that had come before ‘Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain’ eschewed Malkmus’ love of classic rock bands like the Rolling Stones in favor of experimental sounds. But, perhaps due to drummer Gary Young’s departure from the band in 1993, Pavement started crafting more thoughtful pop and punk songs that let Malkmus’ love of a well-crafted guitar hook shine through. The next album they released, ‘Wowee Zowee,’ featured catchy, thoughtful songs played on guitars that had been tuned beforehand.

It was quite the departure from the ‘Slanted and Enchanted’ sound. Not that the band’s classic first album isn’t amazing. It helped to define the ’90s’ indie scene. But once established, the band started tightening up.

Next: Smashing Pumpkins on ‘Pulse Basement Jam’

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