Friday, 2 April 2010
There are few things in life better than seeing a Pixies gig...except seeing two. Over the last couple of weeks I've had the pleasure of their company on two occasions and it was well worth it.
My first brush with the band was in 1988. I heard the song 'Gigantic', either on Brisbane's Triple Zed or Sydney's 2JJJ, I can't remember. I thought it was a good song but didn't immediately froth up in a zealous rock groupie lather and rush out to buy Surfer Rosa.
It was a year later that they hit me. My favourite band at that time was U2. A week after I saw 'em play three sold out shows at the BEC, U2 was on Sydney radio doing a relaxed post-show interview with Triple M's Rob Duckworth. I was at Margate Beach in Redcliffe in my then-girlfriend's car. Ah, young and short-lived love. I knew the band was going to be on, so while we were 'embracing' in the back seat, a tape deck sat in the front.
The band was in good cheer, laughing and joking around while playing some of their favourites. I don't have the tape anymore, but I remember them playing Simple Minds' 'Up On the Catwalk' and 'Tokyo Storm Warning' by Elvis Costello. Then Bono introduced the song which would dethrone U2 as my favourite band. It was 'Monkey Gone to Heaven'. The next day I went out and bought Doolittle and the Pixies have been my favourite band ever since.
So, on to the first gig...
Thursday 18 March
An hour or so before the venue doors opened, many of the first gen Pixies fans could be found across the street at the Fox. In 1989, when Doolittle was released, there was no Convention Centre and the Fox was a gay pub called The Terminus. If Pixies had graced us with their presence back then, they would most likely have played Easts Leagues Club or Metropolis. In the days before Nirvana came along and scruffed us up, we all would have been dressed quite well for a gig like this.
My friend Rob and I wandered over at about 8. The doors were already open and the support act was wailing away inside. Outside there was a graduation ceremony taking place. It looked like it was for one of those English language colleges. We walked past just as 100 mortared graduates were preparing to fight to the death over a sumptuous feast spread of 12 microwaved canapes.
A lot of people don't bother turning up to see the support act at shows and watching The Art, I could understand why. They were not a great choice. They pounded through their songs in a serviceable way, but they were very RAWK!, the lead singer a bastard child of Steven Tyler, Jim Morrison and Michael Hutchence. All 'moves' and no balls. For a group of young'uns who seemed desperate to show off their slithering cock-rock histrionics, they were strangely sexless and unappealing. Maybe the whole pelvic aspect has been done to death. Or maybe I'm just turning into an old bastard.
Rob and I were sat quite close to the front, on the OP side. For those of you who don't know theatre, that means Opposite Prompt. I hope that clears it up for you. Hehe.
I'd chosen seating just to have the experience of seeing the band from a relaxed position where I could just soak it up. I'd seen them from the mess of people in 2007 and would be on the floor again for the second show. With a band like the Pixies you don't know if they'll ever be back, so I wasn't taking anything for granted. At first I thought I'd made a terrible mistake. As the snippets of Un Chien Andalou wound down on the large screen at the back of the stage, the smoke billowed, the four huge light balls lit up and the band sauntered on, I felt as if there was no real intensity of atmosphere. The feeling was made no better by the first few songs, which left the initially welcoming audience a little muted. B-sides always reveal the hardcore fans.
Things warmed up though, as they kicked into one of my favourites, 'Manta Ray'. It's really the perfect Pixies song for the beginner. It has all the elements Pixies are known for: the soft/loud dynamic, Francis singing sweet, Francis screaming, Kim's unassuming yet vital backing, Dave thumping like fuckery and Joe jamming that one note till it near chokes.
As expected there was little interplay between the band and audience...and very little between band members. Kim spoke briefly to the crowd every now and again but it was pretty much all business. In a recent interview Charles (Black Francis) was honest enough to admit he was less interested in the art at this stage of his career. He wanted some money. While Rob was a little put off by the pre-show on-screen shilling of live CDs (available ten minutes after the show's conclusion) I have to say that I'm glad the band is getting what is long overdue. These extremely ordinary-looking, mild-mannered people came along at a time when rock was soft and a bit square, honestly. They didn't change its face and they didn't go alt/wankerama like Sonic Youth. They just made it concise, visceral and they sliced the corners off square. They paved the way for a less bombastic, more edgy breed of rock, kicking off most notably with Nirvana. If those bands could be inspired by the Pixies and make a ton in the early 90s, I say that the Pixies should be allowed to make a bit of scratch 20 years on.
Plus, they still rocked like fuckery. And they made it seem effortless. They didn't prance like tits, they didn't pull any 'stylings', they just stood there like four middle-aged public servants in black, tearing to the core with songs about salary man suicides, surrealist films and King David's adultery.
They powered through Doolittle in order of album track listing, Kim making mention of how short albums were 'back then'. The biggest cheers came for 'Here Comes Your Man' and 'Hey'. After closing the album and the 'show' with 'Gouge Away' they linked up downstage for a bow as the screen behind them showed pre-recorded footage of the band in playful Mexican wave mode.
They came back for two encores, a standard twoser of 'Wave'(UK Surf Mix) and 'Into the White', then Brisbane was treated to a five-song second encore. It must have been because they were breaking our Pixies cherry, because I'm pretty sure all other cities got four. The house lights were up for this last batch and by the time they ended with (arguably) the most-loved song in their catalogue 'Where is My Mind?', 4000 people in the Convention Centre were not so much enjoying a rock show as communing with the great unsung heroes of rock. Rob (who had his Pixies cherry popped that night) later described the experience as almost 'meditative'. I walked away buzzing in their joyous noise. They were crisp and searing, tighter than 2007 when they played the most mania-filled show I've ever witnessed and still ranking as one of the greatest bands in the history of popular music. Of course, that's a general statement. In my personal opinion, they ARE the greatest.