I’ve had the privilege to see a legendary band or two in my day, but the Pixies were really something else. They didn’t feel like a legendary group at all, and came across more as a few friends who got the old band back together. What I didn’t expect was that the old band would be so damn good.
Surfer Blood got the show started, and it slowly became apparent as to why they won the opening slot for this tour. Despite a leader who sounds like Morrisey, the instrumentation of the group is actually pretty akin to the Pixies sound. The reverb guitar and off-kilter song structures made the bands influences show. It made sense the influencers themselves would play after, and Surfer Blood seemed happy to be there. Despite these positives, my sentiments on the group haven’t really changed since the last two times I saw them.
They ultimately remind me of Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin, in that they have a few really catchy and well written songs, but ultimately come off as a bit boring. They’re generally fun to watch, but lack the hooks it would take me to spend thirty dollars on their own concert. The band falls into this weird trapping as a never-headliner in my head, and maybe I’m crazy for it but that’s just my honest opinion. The difference between Surfer Blood and SSLYBY is that the latter seems completely satisfied with their lot in the musical world, and I’ve grown to really respect that. On the flip side, Surfer Blood act like they to want to be the biggest band in the world, and with a forthcoming major label record they might just get it.
After some waiting, the Pixies took the stage (along with a very powerful smoke machine) to rapt applause (and probable coughing in the front row). The band went to work and announced the Doolittle b-sides as they played through them, joking at the knowledge that nobody really wanted to hear them to begin with. It’s was smart to get them out of the way, as people would definitely not have tolerated the songs at the set’s end. None of the four were bad, and I felt “Manta Ray” easily could have found its way onto the parent record if given the chance. My thoughts about this were pretty much cut off when the opening of “Debaser” ripped through the amphitheater.
At that moment it felt like there was only one band in the world that mattered, and the Clash weren’t even on my mind. Here was the reason the people pushed for the Pixies to reunite, conveniently and completely encapsulated within three minutes. They had the charm of the Violent Femmes and the power of the Ramones, and they knew exactly how to play off of that combination. The best part is that they not only sounded exactly like they did twenty years ago, but that they knew it and pushed themselves harder as a result. Doolittle came to life in a way I never thought it could, and a huge amount of credit needs to go the sound man, because it was easily the best sounding show I’ve heard all year.
Frank Black’s voice is really a thing of beauty; one that can only be appreciated during “Tame” when he howls like an animal rather than a man. “Wave of Mutilation” was gorgeous (especially Kim Deal’s harmonies), and “Here Comes Yor Man” still makes me think of the spiritual sequel to the Velvet Underground’s druggie anthem. While I wasn’t as familiar with the deeper cuts on Doolittle, they didn’t disappoint in any way whatsoever. Each track was pure Pixies, and Black was smart enough to make every song worth hearing, whether it be for an undeniable hook, a blistering guitar solo, or even an insane drum beat. I had no idea what a skilled drummer Dave Lovering was, and it’s something that only comes out in person. I’m not sure if he adds parts, but it certainly feels like it in a live setting.
After the album’s set, they took their standing ovation and gave the crowd a bow before departing. Quickly returning, they filled the entire theater with smoke, which might have been a mistake because something or someone cut the power in the middle of their encore. This forced a short interruption, but things were back to normal soon enough and the band flew through “Bone Machine,” ” Nimrod’s Son,” “Where Is My Mind?” and “Gigantic.” Even if I was upset not to hear “Holiday,” “Alison,” or my personal favorite “Dig for Fire,” I can’t deny that the Pixies put on quite possibly a show I’ll remember forever. Between them and Jeff Mangum, I think I’ve filled my awesome quota for the next two years…