Beloved indie singer/songwriter/'90s pinup idol Stephen Malkmus laid out his whole misunderstood personality on Pavement's first album, Slanted And Enchanted, in one insistent cry: "I'm trying." Last night at Webster Hall, a packed crowd was treated to both sides of Malkmus: the elder indie statesmen—melodically aloof and a guitar guru—with an energetic 20-song set that proved he really is still trying, despite appearances.

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(Ben Yakas/Gothamist)

Twelve of the songs played last night came from the band's latest Beck-produced album Mirror Traffic, which found the Jicks' subduing their instrumental chops in favor of focusing on Malkmus's supernatural melodic abilities. The band, now featuring drummer Jake Morris (of The Joggers), was particularly tight, running through the new tunes with energy and glee (despite being exhausted, as Morris told us after the show).

"Tigers" had the pull of a lost Alex Chilton gem, "Forever 28" was ELO for the indie crowd, "Senator" is the hit-that-should-be, and "Brain Gallop" climaxed in a wonderful duel guitar solo. The band also pulled out some new tunes ("Planetary Motion," "Independence Street"), some crowd-pleasing classics (headbanging set opener "Baby C'mon," romantically adrift "Animal Midnight" and, by request, set-closing fan favorite "1% of One") and one killer cover (Sweet's "Love Is Like Oxygen").

Malkmus has long been unfairly plagued by a certain critical analysis of his personality which has proven detrimental to appreciating his music. Stanley Kunitz—two-time Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and founder of Poet's House—once remarked that people constantly misjudged who he was because of his success (he always saw himself as a gardener first and foremost). There seems to be a similar disconnect for Malkmus: the popular narrative is that he's a slacker relic, but his aloofness masks just how much of a stylized, classic rock guitar God he's transformed into in recent years—and it also masks just how much he cares about what he does, which was apparent last night.

Setlist:

Baby C'mon
Spazz
Brain Gallop
Long Hard Book
Tigers
Pennywhistle Thunder
Forever 28
Independence Street
Polvo
Share the Red
Animal Midnight
Tune Grief
Gorgeous Georgie
Senator
Asking Price
Stick Figures In Love

Encore:
Planetary Motion
No One Is (As I Are Be)
Love Is Like Oxygen (Sweet cover)
1% Of One