Spontaneity suits Stephen Malkmus




If you go

What: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, in concert.

When: 9 p.m. Saturday, March 15.

Where: Star Theater, 13 N.W. Sixth Ave., Portland.

Cost: $24 for those 21 and older.

Information: 503-345-7892 or startheaterportland.com

People who come to a Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks show this winter or spring would be wise to expect the unexpected.

Sure, the set will include songs from his newly released album with the group, "Wig Out at Jagbags," and some selections from the other five studio albums Malkmus has recorded with the Jicks. But Malkmus likes to keep fans -- and his band -- guessing as well, as a show on the band's just-completed European tour demonstrated.

"Last night, we did 'Brass in Pocket' by the Pretenders, then we went into 'Peace of Mind' by Boston and into 'No Surprises' by Radiohead, into (the song with the line) 'Big wheel keep on turnin' by Creedence, 'Proud Mary,' and then we ended with 'All Apologies' by Nirvana," Malkmus said in a late-January phone interview. "It was pretty fun. People appreciated it.

"It gave the band something they didn't expect either, because they had no idea I was going to do that," he said. "You had to just think on your feet. Luckily, they're all easy songs."

Malkmus may not take spontaneity to that extreme in the studio, but he clearly isn't one to belabor the recording process or try to plan out every detail of a session.

In the early 1990s, when he was fronting the influential alternative rock band Pavement, the group members would record songs as soon as they learned them and finish albums in a matter of days.

"Certainly in the old Pavement times, there was a lot (of spontaneity)," Malkmus said in a late-January phone interview. "My first couple of albums, even (Pavement's second CD) 'Crooked Rain,' there's a certain freedom to it because everyone just learned the songs (and then recorded them). And they're easy songs, but they're just like kind of excited. And everything that I played on them, all the overdubs, I could have just made them up on the spot."

It's been a decade since the Pavement days, and Malkmus has now made more albums with the Jicks than with Pavement — six to five. But if "Wig Out at Jagbags" is any indication, Malkmus hasn't changed his ways that much. The group (which also includes guitarist/keyboardist Mike Clark, bassist Joanna Bolme and drummer Jake Morris) spent all of a week recording the basic tracks, and it wasn't like the songs were rehearsed to death before recording began.

"It actually took longer to sing and mix and do overdubs, but yeah we just spent like a week in Belgium and did the basic tracks," he said. "We got a couple of extra songs we didn't use, but it went pretty smoothly."

Malkmus likes to move things along in the studio because he thinks it's better for the music.

"I think the only way to do the more time thing is to do two, three or four (short) sessions," he said. "If you stay in a place for like a month, you lose your energy and you're just kind of sitting around playing jazz or watching TV in the back room and drinking every night or something. You get in there and you have your burst of energy — it probably comes the second or third day -- (and) you can get like almost everything in one day if you're lucky, like if everyone's in a good mood. But then you go back in there and you get tired. You get, like, emotionally worn out."

The guitar rock songs that emerged on "Wig Out at Jagbags" are, for the most part, more concise and a bit less jammy than some of the earlier music with the Jicks, and are often centered around appealing pop melodies. The hooks, though, don't always come from the obvious places (a chorus or signature guitar riff). "The Janitor Reveals," for instance, grabs the listener with its snaky vocal melody and a catchy mid-song melodic break. Breezy horns give "Chartjunk" jolts of sunny melody to go with the song's otherwise edgier personality. On "Planetary Motion" the trippy lead guitar lines are a main calling card. "Houston Hades" introduces itself with a whacked-out instrumental section that suddenly dissolves into an easy-going country-flecked melody that suggests what the Eagles might have become had they come up listening to alt-rock groups like the Meat Puppets (or, yes, Pavement) — only to return to appealingly noisier territory before the song ends.

As with much of his music dating back to Pavement, Malkmus on "Wig Out" weaves elements of country and psychedelic rock into what is otherwise a slightly offbeat alternative-leaning rocking pop sound. Considering that Malkmus is proud of his Pavement past, it makes sense there is some musical continuity to his two bands.

"It's part of why I'm here today," Malkmus said, in confirming that he enjoyed the group's 2010 Pavement reunion tour. "Obviously, it's a part of my history and it's something that's a positive thing in my life. So I'm into it.

"Yeah, it was cool, and definitely some of the best stuff I'm ever going to do in music was with that band," he said. "So I'm not going to deny that a lot of my high points were then."