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The cleverest thing about Stephen Malkmus’s 2001 solo debut, a set of 12 dutifully crafted indie-rock exercises, was its title: Stephen Malkmus. Only a real smart-ass would name his least personal work in years after himself. Prior to that, with each succeeding Pavement album, Malkmus’s lyrics had drifted closer to expressing thoughts and feelings that might actually have been some facsimile of the singer’s own. Solo, however, he all but discarded his preferred mode, the allusive reverie, in favor of the carefully observed short story. What’s more, songs like “Jo Jo’s Jacket,” in which Malkmus assumed the voice of Yul Brynner to reminisce about the actor’s career, seemed deliberately and even defiantly slight. Yet his deadpan vocals invested these trivialities with unexpected shades of emotion–just as, with Pavement, he’d recontextualized offhand comments by singing them as though they were his deepest confessions (and vice versa). Words sure aren’t the point on his new Pig Lib (Matador): “Craw Song,” the tale of a never-to-be threesome, might have sounded at home on Stephen Malkmus, but on the nine-minute “1% of One” the singer is soon distracted from the plot by his Tom Verlaine-inspired guitar rambles. Malkmus’s new band, the Jicks, get full billing here, and they deserve it–it must take a lot of practice to disguise such intricate guitar interplay as absentminded noodling. And while I still don’t agree with the folks who say that Pavement could have used a tighter rhythm section, now I know where they’re coming from. Friday, May 23, 11:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/James Crump.