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Last nights Margaret Court Arena show marked the very first time Boston's Pixies have ventured down to Melbourne in seven long years The last visit was to commemorate the ‘Doolittle' 20th Anniversary tour where famously they played four steamy sold out nights at Festival Hall.
On arrival at Margaret Court at 7.30pm I notice that everyone must have got the memo... the tightly packed crowd currently gathered around the merch van is a mass of black jeans and t-shirts, all craning to get a decent view of what’s on offer for the sartorially conscious Pixies fan. The shirts, bags, buttons and stubby holder graphics are bang on the money and punters are falling over themselves to bag some and hand over their hard-earned. The only difficulty they have is in making a choice. It’s a pleasure to see such visually great merchandise.
Tonights support, The Murlocs, are already halfway through their set by the time I eventually get inside… and, as is usually the case, with most of the Pixies fans still to arrive, the support play to a place less than a quarter full. A few early arrivals, who obviously familiar with the band’s material, are down the front dancing wildly which is great to see... but, by and large, it must be fairly demoralising to be playing to so many empty seats. Full marks to them for scoring this support slot though, as I’m sure it will pay dividends for them… after liking the few songs I caught I’ll definitely be checking out more of their work. The lead vocalist looks familiar to me but I struggle to place him. After hearing a few songs – and being suitably impressed by her blistering harp solos, I suddenly realise it is Ambrose Kenny-Smith, the harmonica player from King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.
A short intermission follows. The queues for the bar are long but fatefully I bump into an old music buddy who excitedly tells me how long it’s been since his last Pixies gig… his expectations are high for a great show but he confesses he hasn’t heard ‘Head Carrier’, (their latest) and consequently might not know a lot of the later material. I assure him the new album is a cracker and to definitely give it a listen. We give up queuing and hurry back inside as the lights go down and the strains of the Fab Four’s ‘You Know My Name’ kick in over the PA.
It’s Pixies time… The band casually saunter on stage to huge cheers from the floor with the biggest of all reserved for Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV. It seems all the band also got the dress code memo... everyone is dressed in all black – from head to toe. I really feel for the poor photographers in the pit as their first three songs - the only chance they get to shoot the Pixies – have the band all backlit... and from where I sit, I can see them all struggle in the darkness, frantically swapping lenses in an attempt to even get a bead on Frank and co.
It's hard to know what the band will begin with tonight... so many great songs, all worthy of dust down and quick run around the block... Frank opts to start at the very beginning... he stands a fair way back from his mic for a good minute or so, simply riffing on one of their earliest compositions – 'U-Mass’… it's a really early one – this riff originated from a time predating Frank and Joey Santiago dropping out of the University of Massachusetts… and it’s lyrics still resonate with that timeless uni-student apathy:
"In the sleepy west… of the woody east
is a valley called the Pioneer
we're not just kids, to say the least
we got ideas to us that's dear
like capitalist, like communist…
Like lots of things
You've heard about
They get us pissed
And stupid stuff
It makes us shout”
Coming down off 'U-Mass' – which the crowd love – Frank then rips out a classic from 'Surfer Rosa', almost taunting the audience with a wide mouth grin as he jeers the opening lines of the incestuous ‘Broken Face’
"I got a broken face ...Uh-hu, uh-hu, uh-hu, uh-hu, ooo”
From there it’s straight into a frenzied cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Head On’ that echoes aspects of Sigue Sigue Sputnik’s “Love Missile F1-11 in parts.
‘Baals Back’ is another staccato sonic onslaught…and takes no prisoners.
By comparison, the sleepy, plodding ‘Caribou’ momentarily lulls us into a false sense of respite before Black is again the drill sergeant harshly barking lines that almost melt our faces off… It’s classic Pixies… always a band fuelled, and bejewelled, by it's antagonistic counterparts.
Two absolute beauties are then laid at our feet… it’s ‘All the Saints’ and ‘Here Comes Your Man’, which are worth the price of admission alone.
Frank gives his voice a break as drummer David Lovering and bassist Paz Lenchantin trade lines in ‘La La Love You’.
‘Mr Grieves’ now slides into 'Vamos’ and this proves to be a bit of a showpiece for Santiago – demonstrating just how tight and vital the whole band is these days… Joey's frenzied pickup switching and frantic neck slides in ‘Vamos' transform his axe into a berserk carnivalesque divining rod… no room for any drum solos in this band…
I am amazed when I learn that the Pixies have no setlist tonight, or for any night on this tour, as these days Frank decides it on the spot, only as it comes to mind, barely seconds before a song finishes. After every song he steps up to a rear-facing microphone in front of the drum kit – which is only fed into each of the band’s in-ear headpieces. The band get no prior warning and so everyone has to be on their toes… it certainly keeps everyone alert and on the ball.
It’s pure bliss when Frank impulsively unpacks ‘Where is My Mind?'. An odd 50 or 60 who have been heaving back and forth on the floor now erupt, and bounce up and down, pushing the occasional crowd surfer joyously skywards...They all enjoy a few seconds notoriety as they become the centre of attention and are noticed by the band and onlookers, before disappearing once again back down into the seething throng.
‘Magdalena 318’ which is up next, is an absolutely sublime version tonight, possessing all the urgency and desperation of the original, with deft textural touches from Joey:
"I went down deep in her hive
One year just turned into five
Night came and then it was gone
How did you get so strong
Magdalena, just between us, oh
You're the meanest, and the leanest, oh
Magdalena, how'd you get so strong”
'Subbacultcha' hammers along and the floor are again a moshing melee – sweaty, heaving, happy bodies, all praying this won’t stop anytime soon.
No sign of it relenting just yet though as ‘Tenement Song’ now gives way to ‘Gouge Away’… Santiago is channeling wonderful jittery feedback via his pickup switching again and it sets up ‘Gouge’ beautifully. It’s a one-two TKO as Frank directs the band that ‘Wave of Mutilation’ is to follow… which happily ploughs along until Lovering’s drum barrage speeds things up into another gear signalling ‘Rock Music’ followed by ‘Something Against You’ and then 'Isla de Encanta'… that barking drill sergeant is really losing it now… full on Pixies!
Time for a bit of a quick breather and to take the foot off the pedal for a song or two. Nothing more perfect than the melodious ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ during which the heaving floor throws up some more spectacular crowd surfers.
Paz steps up to the mic and, despite it being a brand new song from 'Head Carrier', delivers a very Kim Deal-esque vocal on ‘All I Think About Now’. This is the first of what transpires to be a four play from the new album ‘Head Carrier' – which, although only in my collection a short time, already sounds to my ears like a real return to form. We get 'Classic Masher', the title track ‘Head Carrier’ which has a real Neil Young ‘Rockin' In The Free World' vibe to it and then finally, just as this finishes, 'Um Chagga Lagga’... a flat out 'Jesus Built My Hotrod’ style banger.
Seems it's time for the 'way-back machine' ...Frank winds the dial all the way back to one of the Pixies earliest demos (and also one of Black's favourite subjects) with the hilarious 'I’ve Been Tired’ from ‘Come On Pilgrim'. Just one look at the hysterical lyrics tells you all you need to know about early Pixies...
I said "I wanna be a singer like Lou Reed"
"I like Lou Reed" she said sticking her tongue in my ear
"Let's go, let's sit, let's talk"
"Politics go so good with beer"
"And while we're at it baby, why don't you tell me one of your biggest fears?"
I said "Loosing my penis to a whore with disease"
"Just kidding" I said
"Losing my life to a whore with disease"
She said "Excuse me please?"
Two now from ‘Bossanova’ to really crank things along… ‘Velouria’ sees the stage (and some more crowd surfers) bathed in a beautiful pink light followed by ‘Havalina’… During these two songs it becomes apparent to me just how importantly Paz’s vocal harmonies are in filling the void created when Kim Deal left back in 2014. As the song climaxes, all the instruments apart from the two guitars fade away, leaving just the two voices, chiming ‘Havalina… Havalina… Havalina’... Frank stands in the dark surveying the audience, assessing the vibe. Nodding approvingly, he yells ‘Hey!’... to which the audience respond with wild cheers. They know it’s the classic from ‘Doolittle’ and they all sing along with gusto, fairly matching Frank's amplified delivery. It’s a heart-warming moment of communion between audience and band and must make the band feel just awesome to have their songs sung back at them with such fervour.
At song’s end the band all gather at the centre of the stage for a couple of minutes to take their bows to an appreciative audience before resuming their places for the final song of the evening. It could only really be one of a couple of songs, and tonight we are graced with ‘Into the White’, one of my favourites off ‘B-sides’. The stage is progressively flooded in smoke until the band are just silhouettes spotted by powerful arc lights at the rear of the stage.
I was hoping we might have heard ‘Planet of Sound’ but beggars can’t be choosers… the beauty of the Pixies having such a huge catalogue of very short songs is that you get to hear plenty over a gig like this. In fact tonight we’ve been served up 30...
As I head out into the concourse of Margaret Court Arena, I bump into a mate who I’ve known for many years and who’s a HUGE Pixies fan. He gets to a lot of gigs but normally plays it very cool… in fact I rarely see him very animated or excited at all. I greet him with a hug only to discover his t-shirt is completely sodden. After an evening down on the floor with a lot of those moshers, he is a tad weary but absolutely elated. He’s had a great night and heard all his favourite songs. I exit the Arena and punters haven’t dispersed. They’re all standing around, excitedly chatting, swapping notes and absolutely wired. It’s a great buzz and testimony to just what a great show The Pixies have played.
To those who are going again tonight to the second show, lucky you… I’m envious. To those who decided that, for whatever reason, without Kim Deal, the Pixies just don’t cut it, you missed a blinder of a gig. Those who were there witnessed a band who are as tight and as vital as ever they were. What did Spock say again? It's the Pixies Jim… just not as you know them.
The Pixies setlist:
• Broken Face
• Head On (Jesus & Mary Chain cover)
• Baal's Back
• All The Saints
• Here Comes Your Man
• La La Love You
• Mr. Grieves
• Where Is My Mind?
• Magdalena 318
• Tenement Song
• Gouge Away
• Wave Of Mutilation
• Rock Music
• Something Against You
• Isla de Encanta
• Monkey Gone to Heaven
• All I Think About Now
• Classic Masher
• Head Carrier
• Um Chagga Lagga
• I've Been Tired
• Bel Esprit
• Into The White
Pixies Remaining Tour Dates
5th March - Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne
7th March - Hordern Pavilion, Sydney
Tickets available via www.ticketek.com.au
Carbie Warbie's complete photo gallery of the Pixies is being hosted on TheDwarf.com.au's sister music website, GigBill.
PIXIES SECOND GIG SET LIST
Ed Is Dead
Planet Of Sound
I've Been Tired
All the Saints
All I Think About Now
Monkey Gone To Heaven
I've Been Tired
Wave Of Mutilation
Winterlong (Neil Young cover)
Where Is My Mind?
Here Comes Your Man
Um Chagga Lagga
La La Love You
Brick Is Red
Into The White
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