In a bizarre but welcome decision, Pixies chose to play a rotation of UK dates and then loop around again and play another round. Each time this resulted in a sell out show, maybe not so bizarre?
Gig goers are crammed into what feels and looks like an over capacity venue. People are pushed up against the edges of the walls and are unable to move past without pushing the shoulders of bystanders and turning them like revolving doors. Looking at the crowd tonight it seems like there is a large student presence, but this being 2016 it seems a long time ago that sixth form common rooms and uni bedrooms featured the obligatory Trompe Le Monde poster (or if you needed to prove a longer, deeper loyalty a Doolittle poster). Yet here they are young men with barely a need to shave and young women breaking in their first pair of DMs in the true evergreen gentle indie style of the young fresh faced middle class academic.
Is liking Pixies a prerequisite rite of passage? Everyone else is a former ‘student’ from the 80s, or the 90s. A very young woman in a rowing team sweater is chatting to a guy she cut in front of at the bar. “Yeah, this is only my second gig, the first one was McFly.” Oh you sweet thing, you may want to brace for impact.
Arriving on stage Pixies have only minor signs of the passing of time excusing, of course, the replacement of original bassist and vocalist Kim Deal with Paz Lenchantin. Black Francis has grown a little in stature and gained a touch of Brando’s Colonel Kurtz about him. They open with crowd pleasingly punchy Bone Machine giving the crowd a chance to open up their own voices. Pixies songs are unexplainably pleasing to sing along to. Not always perfectly tonal, punctuated with well timed shouts and yelps, they are emotionally cathartic. A timely resurrection of the karmic environmental warning Monkey Gone to Heaven is well accepted, in these politically turbulent times it feels really good to shout about these things at the top of your lungs.
The set list doesn’t seem to be organised by chronology or logic with the changes between Pixies songs being much like the changes in Pixies songs, spontaneous and sudden. Black Francis once joking said, “We can play loud and fast or slow and cool, but there is nothing in between”. The same is true of songs from the new album which are being showcased, interspersed with an epic back catalogue of greatest hits.
The first track played from 2016’s Head Carrier is Bel Esprit which is a delightful duet between Black Francis and Lenchantin. It has the feel of classic Pixies with a sweet, slightly mocking, teen dream refrain. Immediately after which comes Something Against You from the Surfer Rosa album. It is a violent rendition and I worry for that girl from the bar.
Next comes sexy, sultry Talent which is a fully rounded song. Played live it is rich with the unprocessed sound of reverbing electric guitars. Then without warning, they play Broken Face.
Broken Face is a kooky chirping little song, it’s one from the vault but I would be surprised if it was ever anyone’s absolute favourite. They move from one song to next efficiently with no fuss in between. They seem to be racing to play the next song and the next, not to get it over with, but because the joy is in the playing. Even the darker, art rock songs like There Goes my Gun and Gouge Away are played with gusto, Joey Santiago getting a little of the limelight strangles some excellent riffs out of the neck of his guitar.
They return to their early surfy, indie, college rock for a piece of melodic pop with Might As Well Be Gone. The crowd are sold, this gentle and catchy tune has struck a chord with all the fans. We are singing along now and will very well be singing along with this for decades to come. Mixed in with well known and well loved hits is the entire track list of Head Carrier (with the exception of Plaster of Paris).
All of the tracks stand up well against the band’s back catalogue. From soul soothing All the Saints, the art rock of Oona, to heavy rocking Baal’s Back, these album tracks translate brilliantly to live performance and gain a lot from the energy of a shared experience. The full spectrum of songs from Head Carrier are proving themselves as future classics.
As for the Pixies back catalogue – it’s vast. They may not have the biggest quantity of albums, but almost every album track they have had is a hit. For many years Pixies had a core set list of the most commercially successful of their songs, now they have pulled in a couple of the more ‘cult’ songs to extend their set into an expansive retrospective.
These songs include; La La Love You (brilliantly sung by drummer David Lovering), Nimrod’s Son, Rock Music, No. 13 Baby and Crackity Jones. Dropped in between are inclusions from 2013 release Indie Cindy; Snakes and Magdalena 318. Their cover of Neil Young’s Winterlong should stand out as an anomaly but as an album track, popping up at the end of their Greatest Hits album Wave of Mutilation, and as a live version it fits beautifully. Lenchantin’s backing vocals are showcased, her voice is more than just a ringer for original vocalist and bassist Kim Deal, she is clear and harmonious.
As expected the group shine when they play songs like Isla de Encanta, Caribou, Debaser, The Holiday Song, Where Is My Mind, Wave of Mutilation, Velouria, Tame and Hey. Spanning a number of years these songs carry with them musical memories and listening to the band interact with the audience singing along with full throated abandon is like witnessing a group psychoanalytical dramatic regression therapy. This may sound nightmarish, but there was a genuine sense of relief by the end of this massive 34 song set list.
Their encore is an odd choice, but having played so many of the ‘big songs’ it would be too predictable to play another! Instead they opt for cool, near goth B side Into the White. Perhaps its message to their fans not to get too comfortable in their expectations. This is an album tour, this is isn’t a comeback. After all, this is band who have not revived a career, they have simply carried on from where they left off.
Pixies continue their Head Carrier Tour in Spring 2017 with dates in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa before returning to Europe with dates in Spain.
Photography by Imelda Michalczyk and review by Sarah Sievers. Pixies live at Brixton Academy 6th December 2016.