life design music photography home us film art fashion global notes archive links
This article can be found in Issue 3 (p26) of Vhcle Magazine.
2010: Reunited
 design fashion film music art photography global notes life
When iconic ‘90s indie rock band Pavement announced last year they would be reuniting for a world tour in 2010, thousands of fans who came of age slanted and enchanted in the decade of Lisa Loeb and Reality Bites rejoiced. I would know – I was one of them.
The irony is that I didn’t begin listening to Pavement until about three years ago. I didn’t pay much attention to them when they were releasing their classic albums 15 years ago.  I was too busy playing air guitar at the time to Soundgarden and Alice in Chains in my bedroom as a wannabe-skater junior high student. So when I bought my ticket for Pavement’s show this fall in St. Paul, I was looking to get nostalgic about a band I have no memories of.
I’m not the only one who falls into this category. Much like other modern cult obsessions – such as the Velvet Underground and The Big Lebowski – Pavement are far more popular today than they were when they formally existed. The band broke up in 1999 after five full-length albums and one alternative radio semi-hit in “Cut Your Hair.”
The band weren’t complete nobodies in their time. As one of the originators of the low-fi indie movement of the ‘90s, Pavement had a cult audience among the day’s college rock aficionados. But compared to Nirvana and Pearl Jam, the band barely made a blip on mainstream radio. And this was in an era when bands with names like Toad the Wet Sprocket could find mainstream success.
While some of the angst-ridden grunge bands of the ‘90s sound a bit dated in 2010, Pavement’s albums have only grown in relevance. You’re far more likely to find an alternative band today trying to look and sound like Pavement than Alice in Chains.
Pavement’s singer/songwriter Stephen Malkmus had a stream-of-consciousness, non-sensical approach to his lyrics, which he delivered in a slightly-better-than-monotone voice. He didn’t seem like he ran in the same social circles as far more brooding and intense singers like Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell.  
Ignoring the flannel-shirt-and-ripped-jean look that was the order of the day for rock bands at the time, Pavement’s look more resembled the type of “t-shirt-and-uncombed-hair” guy you knew in college who was really into disc golf. The band seemed to take itself even less seriously than Green Day did at the time, which wasn’t very.
The fact that Green Day are still popular in 2010 is a shock to many who were singing along to “Dookie” back in 1994, but the fact that Pavement sold out several Central Park shows in a matter of minutes this year in New York City is even more shocking.
Another indie band that have followed a similar path in recent years is the Pixies. Like Pavement, they had a small but loyal following when they were releasing albums in the late 1980s and early ‘90s. But as bands began to cite them in interviews as major influences, more people started to check the Pixies out, and their legend continued to grow.
The band, which broke up in 1993, reunited in 2004 to headline the Coachella Music Festival that year and has been playing shows ever since. Other ‘90s bands have gotten in on the reunion action in recent years, including Rage Against the Machine, Soundgarden and the Stone Temple Pilots.
Though classic rock bands like the Eagles and Fleetwood Mac have banked millions off reunion tours to add to their already bulging bank accounts, the primary reason bands like Pavement and the Pixies reunite is often because they need the money. Though they don’t get anywhere near Eagles-level cash, many of these types of bands are able to make far more from touring now than they could 15 or 20 years ago.
In 1994, about the worst thing you could accuse an alternative band of was being a “sellout.” Most of them wouldn’t be caught dead selling one of their songs to a commercial or for some other blatant monetary reason. To suggest that a band was writing songs for any reason other than the “love of music” was treason.
This decade has been a far different story. Bands ranging from Modest Mouse and Phoenix to Wilco and even (gasp) Pearl Jam have all had songs used in commercials. In interviews, members of the Pixies and Pavement have all but admitted that money was the primary driving force in their decision to reunite.
Pavement singer Stephen Malkmus, who is now 43 and a parent, suggested that denying this fact would seem stupid. “If you’re 40, and you leave your family and fly to Australia to do shows, and you’re doing it for the art, that seems kind of weird,” he told Spin earlier this year. “If you’re doing it for the art, stay home with your family.”
Admitting you’re looking to make a dime isn’t all that blasphemous nowadays. The Pavement fans who in 1995 probably thought of reunion tours as about the lamest thing possible a band could do are now lining up to get tickets. With the national unemployment rate hovering around 10 percent, most Gen-Xers have more important things to worry about than their favorite college rock band doing something they once thought of as lame.
Regardless, it’s not like Pavement are anything remotely close to a ‘90s version of the Eagles. “Hotel California” will probably be on the radio more times in the next hour than “Cut Your Hair” will be in the next 10 years.
Pavement never seemed too idealistic or to cling to the “live fast, die young” ethos anyway. “Simply put, I want to grow old – dying does not meet my expectations,” Malkmus sang in 1997’s “We Are Underused.” “Let’s drink a toast to all those who arrived to tell about their struggles in hushed tones around a fire.”
In a way, that’s what the band are doing with the reunion. “Pavement” didn’t survive, but its band members did long enough to grow older, reunite and sing about yesterday’s struggles in hushed tones in venues across America. And fans are willing to fork over the dough to listen to them – even people who never remembered them from their “heyday” anyway.

Marc Ingber is a journalist with Sun Newspapers, based in Minneapolis, MN. He was born and raised in the Twin Cities and attended journalism school at the University of Kansas. His primary interests include rock n' roll, movies, food and drink, the Minnesota Vikings and the Minnesota Twins - probably in that order.
Read other articles by Marc: