Here Comes Your Nan – Pixies’ live review
Pixies were the ISIS of music – fuelled by visceral religious imagery, unloved in America but inspiring deranged devotion in pockets of suburban Britain. They redefined rock, invented a genre and inspired your favourite bands. They released five insanely good albums in the time it takes Axl Rose to decide on a pizza topping, and then imploded as they stood on the edge of superstardom.
Following the band’s split, the faithful were content with bassist Kim Deal’s and singer Black Francis’ divergent solo careers. But then… I remember seeing Frank Black and the Catholics in Vancouver in 2001, when they casually dropped the bassline for Gouge Away and we all looked at each other open mouthed as Frank unleashed that otherworldly roar. From the crowd’s thrilled reaction – and their slinking off to the bar during Frank’s solo songs – it was clear that the Pixies had to get back together.
The first reunion gigs in 2004, when still-youngish original fans like myself rubbed shoulders with teenagers turned onto the Pixies by the reverence of bands like Radiohead and Nirvana, were electric. Like religious experiences. I went to as many as I could, and they were the best gigs I’ve ever been to.
But 2016 finds the Pixies at a pivotal moment. Two years ago they released their first new material since Trompe Le Monde. The first single, “Bagboy” was great – tight, angular, rhythmic, unlike anything the band had done before, but unmistakably Pixies – but everything that followed was mediocre. Kim walked out on the band half way through recording the new material. Live, they’re on the verge of becoming a nostalgia act, trotting out the hits for appreciative forty-somethings.
The heart of the Pixies music has always been the battle between Kim’s precocious, propulsive basslines and angelic voice against Francis’ power chords and screaming, an echo of the personal friction that first tore the band apart. With Kim gone, can they still kick ass? Well the sellout crowd at the Brixton Academy certainly thought so as the Pixies walked on to loud and fervent adulation. Paz Lenchantin, in the unenviable position of filling Kim’s boots, is bolshy, stylish and, like Kim, improbably attractive next to the rest of them.
Everyone’s getting old. Pixies were never about looking good, and they look remarkably well preserved. Black is still chunky but cranks out the songs relentlessly, his face folding in pain when he unleashes that unholy scream. David Lovering’s monkey-limbed drumming is still as sharp and dynamic as ever, however knackered he looked after two hours driving the band’s relentless pace. Lead guitarist Joey Santiago’s squalling guitar veers between perfect surf-pop and unnerving, yelping scribbles as effortlessly as ever.
They kick out the jams one after the other, no stopping to chat or even to let applause subside. And with a back catalogue this big, you can understand why. They play for close to two hours. The set covers all their albums. The older stuff, thin and scratchy on record, sounds beefier and rockier live. Despite the obvious ‘maturity’ of some fans, the crowd greet each song with uninhibited joy, screaming, fist pumping and moshing. When Black screams “REPENT” it still sounds like the earth has been torn open down to hell.
But they alternate each old song with a new song. The new stuff, although politely received, sounds like Frank Black b-sides. Dull, turgid, dated – could be any early 90s garage rock indie band. The gig doesn’t pick up momentum until half way through when they play classics back to back – Gouge Away, Hey, Rock Music, Tame, Nimrod’s Son, Where Is My Mind?, Here Comes Your Man, Vamos, Caribou and Debaser are all cranked out with a brutal efficiency.
It’s strange to see Vamos – on record an awkward, squalling, repetitive yelp – become their Stairway To Heaven. Joey plays a hugely extended solo to a rapturous reception. Perhaps ‘play’ is talking it up a little – he turns his guitar into a Jesus and Mary Chain style wall of feedback, at one point ‘playing’ the on/off switch, at another point unplugging the guitar and playing the plug with his thumb. The crowd love it.
Kim’s absence means no Gigantic, but it’s overrated anyway. A more glaring omission was No. 13 Baby, the Pixies defining tune with its impelling rhythm, biblical images, sexual tension and cathartic screaming released effortlessly, a sledgehammer wielded like a scalpel. A late start means we get a single song encore, “Planet Of Sound”, and are denied a planned encore of “U-Mass”. A shame, because of all their songs, it’s the one that kills the hardest live – a stadium stomper that Mötley Crüe would be proud of.
Hey, Caribou and Gouge Away, great on record, are religious experiences live, and played back to back at the Apollo in a joyous slab of balls out screaming rock and roll. Incredible. The gig would be worth it for these few minutes of perfection alone – coming in the middle of an incendiary 2 hours of mostly killer, some (new) filler, it’s a gift. It may be a different story in the studio, but live, there is still no band that can touch them, even without Kim.
I got in free by the way, on guestlist that was supposed to be for a neighbour who hates me more than anyone else in the world because I shut off the power to all the warehouses to shut down this stupid hipster fuck illegal rave and that also cut the power to the fridges for her catering business. Then all these druggie warehouse cunts came to my door but were too full of MDMA to get properly angry despite my goading. Then I saw one of them in the street the next week and was like “Hey man, I know we both said some things we regret, but I just wanted you to know that…I forgive you”. His face!!! Best troll of my life.
Listen to Pixies’ new song…
Full setlist of Pixies at 02 Brixton Academy, 11th July 2016:
Head On (The Jesus and Mary Chain cover)
Wave of Mutilation
Monkey Gone to Heaven
Isla de Encanta
Um Chagga Lagga
I’ve Been Tired
Brick Is Red
Where Is My Mind?
Here Comes Your Man
Encore: Planet of Sound
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