Gig Review and Photography by John Bentley

Pixies

With their unique brand of weird surf-punk and experimentation, Pixies have proved to be an incredibly influential band and have been name checked by Kurt Cobain and David Bowie, among others. While now legendary, they never achieved massive success during their original incarnation. Reunion rumours were rife until they finally got back together in 2004 for what proved to be a series of instantly sold-out gigs. Intermittent tours since have reputedly grossed millions of dollars, but the question has remained, will they ever record new material?

That question has been answered this year, with new material being drip-fed to fans via the internet. The downside for fans is that original bass player Kim Deal has recently left the band, reputedly not wanting to record new songs. Deal provided distinctive bass and backing vocals to Pixies recordings. She also contributed some important songs, notably ‘Gigantic’, and in many ways was the soul of the band. Regrettably she did not get to write many Pixies songs, as that task was undertaken by band leader Black Francis (aka Frank Black / Charles Thompson). She eventually found an outlet for her considerable song writing talent in her ‘other band’ The Breeders, of course. Pixies have now found a new bass player, amazingly also called Kim. The new Kim, Kim Shattuck, tonight proves most able to reprise Deal’s bass parts and really fits in with the band. However, no one could fill Deal’s role and, in particular, the omission of her ‘Gigantic’ from the set does feel like a big hole.

Pixies

Pixies are only undertaking four UK gigs and all quickly sold out. So the atmosphere is tense with anticipation, as our heroes take the stage in Manchester tonight. They’re ordinary looking, casually dressed, middle-aged guys, but the new Kim adds a bit of youth and glamour in her slightly saucy garb, at which point I refer you to the photos.

The 2004 reunion sets were made up of the indisputably classic songs from the first three albums, ‘Come on Pilgrim’, ‘Surfer Rosa’ and ‘Doolittle’. However, Pixies are now brimming with confidence and tonight we get a range of material from all their albums, including the less well-regarded ‘Trompe le Monde’. And of course, there’s also the eagerly anticipated new material which makes up around a fifth of the set.

Pixies

First up, Black Francis gets really close-up to the microphone for a curiously low-key version of ‘In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)’, a cover of a song originally on the soundtrack of David Lynch’s film ‘Eraserhead’. In the recorded versions he bellows out the lyrics, but not tonight. We’re not disappointed, as later on we get to hear plenty of Black Francis’s trademark howling. The first big crowd moment comes with the ‘Here Comes Your Man’, with the audience loudly singing the chorus and waving arms in the air. It’s interesting that there are all ages represented tonight, but many of the more enthusiastic younger folk are down the front swaying. Every now and again a plastic glass of liquid flies through the air, making for damp viewing conditions near the stage.

Some of the more well-known known songs come off better than others. ‘Bone Machine’ and ‘Gouge Away’ sound great. All the ‘big’ songs, inevitably including ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, ‘Debaser’ and ‘Wave of Mutilation’, get a rapturous reception, even though these are not the most interesting parts of the evening. Many of the best moments are unexpected. On record the obscure ‘Brick is Red’ is a whimsical coda to the ‘Surfer Rosa’ album, but live tonight it sounds absolutely brilliant and says everything about how quirky and original Pixies were and are. ‘Mr Grieves’ is another inspired inclusion. Pixies tend to sound better when being their eccentric selves and not trying to be a conventional full-on rock band. However, the whacko ‘Tony’s Theme’ somehow doesn’t sound quite right without Kim Deal doing the daft spoken intro, “This is a story about a superhero called Tony, it’s called Tony’s theme”.

Pixies

With the new songs it doesn’t help that a couple of them have not even been released and the audience don’t know them. A new song that’s been out a while, and that we’re now getting used to, is ‘Bagboy’. It sounds good tonight with its distinctive boomy bass and electronic snare drum beat introduction. The unreleased ‘Magdalena 318’ also grabs attention with its heavy buzzsaw guitar.

It’s a good night for covers too. We get Neil Young’s ‘Winterlong’ (very effective with twin vocals from Kim and Black Francis). Also the Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Head On’ and a surprising cover of The Fall’s ‘Big New Prinz’, cleverly using Gary Glitter’s ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ as the instrumental introduction. It seems to fit together seamlessly.

Pixies

Most songs are played fairly straight, but the always strange and wonderfully rhythmic ‘Vamos’ gives an opportunity for Pixies’ superb guitarist Joey Santiago to play around with (enjoyable) stuttering feedback and distortion, to a shuffling background beat from the rhythm section, comprising Kim and drummer David Lovering. Finally the familiar opening acoustic guitar chords alert the audience to the coming of ‘biggee’ ‘Where is My Mind’ and they start to sing the ‘Whoooo’ vocal sounds that starts the song. With the abrupt guitar ending to the track, the band come forward to take a well deserved bow. Throughout the evening Pixies have been rather hidden as silhouettes by the intense backlighting, but at last the lights go up and we can see them clearly. It’s a shame that this only happens at the end as it would have allowed more connection of band and audience earlier on.

The hard-rocking three song encore section comes to an end with an appropriately noisy ‘Planet of Sound’. In a two hour set they’ve got through a fantastic 39 songs. Fans can’t really complain at that. We’ve had most of the ‘hits’ (no ‘River Euphrates’, however) and also a good dose of obscurities and new songs. A triumphant evening for the revitalised Pixies. Hopefully we can now look forward to Pixies releasing more good new songs.

Jezabels

A strong support slot is provided tonight by Aussie band The Jezabels. Gig Junkies last reported on them supporting Garbage and sounding ‘Cranberries-esque’. With a new album due out in the New Year, they seem to have developed a lot since then and with their shimmering guitar they sound powerful and a little more like The xx tinged with the Cocteau Twins. Hayley Mary provides strong lead vocals and stage presence.

Pixies Setlist: In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song); Andro Queen; Cactus; Ed Is Dead; Indie Cindy; Nimrod’s Son; Here Comes Your Man; La La Love You; Mr. Grieves; Subbacultcha; Distance Equals Rate Times Time; Something Against You; Bone Machine; Brick Is Red; Bagboy; Ana; Levitate Me; Tony’s Theme; I’ve Been Tired; Hey; Magdalena 318; What Goes Boom; Isla de Encanta; Monkey Gone to Heaven; Another Toe in the Ocean; Gouge Away; Wave of Mutilation; Rock Music; Debaser; Blue Eyed Hexe; Caribou; Motorway to Roswell; Winterlong; The Holiday Song; Vamos; Where Is My Mind? Encore: Big New Prinz; Head On; Planet of Sound.

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