For a band that, like the Velvet Underground before them, influenced and inspired a generation, the Pixies should be bigger and more famous than any other touring band today. The fact they are not, and are perhaps still very much an underground band says more about the world we live in than it is a reflection on the quality of the performance on offer here tonight at Birmingham’s Academy.
I have been fortunate to have seen Frank Black play post-Pixies solo sets throughout the late-90’s and earlier 00’s, as well as catching The Breeders during that period too. I also saw the stunning 20 year anniversary ‘Doolittle’ tour in 2009. I had been concerned that when Kim Deal left the band and her replacement came along a little messily, that there would be too big a void, and it would not be easily filled. I was also worried by a review of the Pixies’ London gig earlier this week that pretty much described it as a traffic accident. I should have listened to my heart and trusted in the integrity of Black Francis, Joey Santiago and David Lovering, who rarely put a foot wrong.
It is blindingly obvious during the first moments of opening song ‘River Euphrates’, when new bass player Paz Lenchantin’s vocals blend beautifully with Frank’s, it is perfect. I guess the band had a tough decision to make when finding a new Kim Deal: do you find someone who does something different or someone who just sounds like her? There is no time to fully consider this as during the three second gap before Joey’s feedback drenched opening to ‘There Goes My Gun’ starts, and she sings backing vocals for the chorus with Deal’s exact American accent, you could close your eyes and believe nothing had changed. And this sets the the scene for a perfect performance.
I guess the band could have picked songs from their back catalogue where their old compadre was less prominent, so it would have seemed less obvious she was not there, but no they just play an hour and forty five minute set of pure class, with their new member who fits in to an already well-oiled machine.
It is also interesting to note that the set list for this tour appears to change every night, and Birmingham is blessed tonight with a running order of songs that many other bands would kill for. Within the first twenty minutes, the pace is fast and furious with no talking in between songs and literally mere seconds of silence between tracks, I think that they will have no big tracks for the encores, because they are casually dishing them all out so early, one after the other. They mix in a healthy selection from the new album “Head Carrier” (9 out its 12 twelve tracks) and a good helping from everywhere else, except interestingly, “Indie Cindy”, which is odd because although under-rated by many, it is actually a really good album. This contrast keeps things interesting over the thirty plus songs played and you never know what is coming up next, particularly as their sets change so often.
Musically the band is on fire. There is no sense that over the last thirty years their powers have waned or they have become jaded by their comparative lack of success. Frank Black’s vocals are as soft as they always are when they need to be and a frenzied screech when called for as well. David’s drumming is so full of heart and on the beat perfect that you can only stare in wonder how in tune the band is. Joey’s guitar is loud and crystal clear in the mix but his use of space is phenomenal when you know that lesser players would do more and end up with less – I guess this is the Pixies’ mentality and genius in arranging their songs: everyone does just enough because that little bit over what is needed and the whole thing is ruined.
There is a slight lull around about three quarters in, which may be due to the fact they play almost five songs in a row from the new album. Your ear is desperate to hear an old friend and so they finish with the glorious ‘Rock Music’ and ‘Debaser’, before returning with the not often played but wonderful B-side, ‘Into the White’.
Highlights for me are the superior and softer B side UK surf version of ‘Wave of Mutilation’; the audience response to ‘La La Love You’; ’Ana’; and all of the section where Frank plays acoustic guitar – particularly ‘Nimrod’s Son’ and ‘Here Comes Your Man’.
The Pixies are leaving the UK to continue their tour but the warmth of feeling for these four musicians that is shown tonight shows how well thought of they still are after 30 years making music. If anything, and on tonight’s evidence, they are better than they have ever been: their youthful passion continues undiminished and it is supplemented by experience and wisdom. I just love that. More power to you Pixies.
Pixies set list
There Goes My Gun
I’ve Been Tired
Head On (The Jesus and Mary Chain cover)
Monkey Gone to Heaven
Planet of Sound
Where Is My Mind?
Winterlong (Neil Young cover)
All the Saints
Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf version)
La La Love You
Here Comes Your Man
All I Think About Now
Might as Well Be Gone
Into the White
Review Alan Neilson
Photographs: Chris Bowley