Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks
Cat’s Cradle, Carrboro
Monday, March 3

At the end of the first song of Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks’ show at Cat’s Cradle on Monday night, a technician came onstage to aid the former Pavement frontman while the other Jicks began strumming an impromptu version of Pixies’ “Here Comes Your Man.” It turned out that the wiring of Malkmus’ guitar was shocking him, traveling through his limbs and torso to leave his lips tingling with the current. But it was Philadelphia’s Purling Hiss that truly seemed electrified.

When Purling Hiss took the stage, the venue was a gawping hole occupied only by 50 or so people. Later, the crowd filled out for Malkmus, despite the icy weather. Based solely on raucousness, it would be easy to call Purling Hiss the night’s standout act, though that’s not entirely fair. Their set, culled mostly from 2013’s excellent Water on Mars, was furious and unrelenting. Like occasional label-mate Ty Segall, they spit well-placed yelps like epithets, with a furious pace that inspired equally furious foot-tapping. Malkmus’ modern mid-tempo style barely attempts this fury, let alone the meteorological impact of a Purling Hiss song like “Lolita.”

Like whiskey and a chaser, Purling Hiss’ riffs singed, while Malkmus’ affable songs were the balm, easier to swallow. Enjoying them didn’t require a rebellious streak, a leather jacket or a fantasy about riding a Harley. They’re just good songs that evoke the ’90s in a particular way. They brought the cool dads out in force, in their thick-framed glasses and well-trimmed beards. But there were also a gaggle of twenty-somethings singing along to “Lariat.”

Malkmus’ core fans came of age when I was still far too young to collect any Pavement singles, and aside from a few months in college spent ruminating over Quarantine the Past, Pavement’s greatest hits album, I was never a devotee. I went into this show fresh-faced and freezing, only hoping that I would be able to drive home and that the band would play “Senator” (you know, the song they can’t play on the radio). As genteel as Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks might be, they tap into the same elemental source that makes modern college kids go buy Pavement’s Slanted & Enchanted. They aren’t anthemic, punchy or riotous—they’re likeable and witty. Live, they simply light up at a lower voltage than Purling Hiss.