Pavement pounds it out again
"I wouldn't think that money would be a driving force for the re-formation of Pavement," says Rad Saunders. "They never had any money in the first place." Saunders, a booker for Helter Skelter, a leading music agency that represents Amy Winehouse and Charlotte Church, among others, is one of many Pavement fans who are surprised at the announcement that the early 1990s alt-rock heroes from Stockton, California, are re-forming. The band has announced via the music site Brooklyn Vegan its intention of playing a handful of benefit shows in Central Park next year. Tickets sold out within two minutes of the announcement. There has also been talk of appearances at next year's Coachella festival and some UK shows. The question Saunders and other fans are asking is: why?
They can't imagine the band's quirky leader, Stephen Malkmus, thinking re-formation was a good idea. This was the man who, during the band's last tour in 1999, sat on a tour bus with a coat over his head for much of the time. At their final show in London, he produced a set of handcuffs and said: "This is what it's like being in a band." When the guitarist Scott Kannberg recently brought up the idea of getting back together, Malkmus responded: "Something small in 10 years sounds good to me."
"I'm not sure if it's a good thing," says Danny Eccleston, the executive editor at Mojo magazine. "And I'm not sure why Malkmus has agreed - he's always poo-pooed the idea." Eccleston believes that like The Who, who in their later years toured to support the lifestyle of the profligate bassist John Entwistle, Pavement may be back to help out certain members of the band who are feeling the pinch. "Kannberg has been the prime mover, and has been agitating for this for three years at least," says Eccleston. "The percussionist Bob Nastanovich won't have any obvious other revenue streams. Perhaps it's best regarded as a benefit for him."
Pavement were a commercially negligible but influential alternative rock band of the early and mid-1990s, inspiring, among other things, Blur's Song 2. Wistful, arty, funny and wilfully idiosyncratic (they added Nastanovich to help the original drummer Gary Young keep time; they sometimes played Scrabble when they should have been rehearsing), they were the thinking music fan's favourite lo-fi rock band. The chief songwriter Malkmus, once a security guard at the Whitney Museum of Art, was a difficult but brilliant frontman capable of writing hit songs but who chose to write esoteric ruminations on modern life instead. Their five albums have held up well since their mid-1990s peak.
"They were revered and respected by loads of artists," says Saunders. "They are one of those bands where the longer they have been away, the more important they have become." But until recently, reuniting was considered a no-no for any band who, like Pavement, cared about their place in history. "Since punk, re-formations have been regarded as something that tend to sully a band's reputation," says Saunders, "and they often do."
But as revenue from publishing has tailed off with the decline in record sales - thanks to free downloading and the recession - many bands have been forced back on the road. Fortunately, it is no longer as uncool to re-form as it once was. The reason? The alt-rock gods The Pixies got back together to play the Coachella festival in 2004 to rave reviews and made it possible for once-groovy bands to reunite as middle-aged codgers.
"Pre-Pixies, reunions were always seen as naff. Post-Pixies, the debate over whether reunions are good or bad has subsided," says Eccleston "Even [notoriously diffident Specials singer] Terry Hall's stance on a Specials reunion was changed by seeing the Pixies. Pavement are joining recent re-formers Take That, Faith No More, Public Image Ltd, Blur, Boyzone, Motley Crue and The Verve. What can they expect in return for their pains? Or put another way, how much money are they likely to make?
"Nostalgia and the chance to sing along to a good back catalogue is what punters want," says Saunders. "It's a safe bet, financially speaking. One big show can make them £75,000 (Dh440,000)," he says. "A top slot at a festival would get them anything from £1 million (Dh5.9m) down." * Andy Pemberton