While adjusting his guitar set-up moments after his band The Jicks had taken the stage at the Gothic Theatre Wednesday night, Stephen Malkmus was quick to engange the crowd, trying to gauge the precise vibe of the Cherry Creek neighborhood.
“That’s where our hotel was,” he said. “Can you skateboard there?”
The crowd didn’t provide a solid answer, and the singer-guitarist was left hanging as he continued fiddling with his complex stage arrangement. “Sorry,” he added. “We start slow but end high.”
Bassist Joanna Bolme stepped up to her microphone to provide back-up: “It’s our first show on this tour.”
This got the crowd cheering, and moments later, the band tore into “Tigers,” from 2011’s Mirror Traffic, a terrific set opener that set the tone for the rest of the evening. The guitars were loud and the guitarists – primarily Malkmus – were wild.
It’s always exciting to catch the first show of any national tour, to get the first real glimpse of an act before it’s perfectly molded and before the performers have even a chance to slump into a routine. There’s also the chance that something might go spectacularly wrong, even with seasoned professionals with decades of performances behind them. Fortunately, Malkmus and the Jicks produced a set full of the former and free of the latter.
Malkmus, clad in jeans and a blue long-sleeve, was especially free-spirirted, diving into extended bridges and codas with abandon. His head lolled along with his strums during “Spazz,” his shaggy hair swinging just below his eyes and his tall frame vibrating as he spit out the song’s rapid verses.
He’d hold his guitar at weird angles, tilting it against his frame or even throwing it over his shoulders to play on his neck during prolonged jam sessions. He seemed unable to stop himself from showboating throughout the set, and finally Bolme matched him by swing her bass over her shoulders and onto her neck towards the end of one song.
The best song of the night, “Shibboleth,” was a prime cut from Wig Out at Jagbags the album they’re currently touring in which Malkmus kept snatching his microphone out of its stand to shout out the lyrics, even strumming with it still in hand at one point. To see almost any other indie rock band jam as much as Malkmus and the Jicks did would have been off-putting, and to some extent it was. Nonetheless, it was great fun watching Malkmus own his rock diety status instead of simply playing it cool.