September 9, 2013
Better than: Slicing up eyeballs.
It's hard to say anything about Pixies without devolving into hero worship or jaded and unwarranted dismissal. Not grunge, they played John the Baptist to the movement, famously being Kurt Cobain's favorite group. Their long stable lineup was finally broken this year when long-time bassist Kim Deal was replaced by former Muffs bassist Kim Shattuck. This has apparently enraged a lot of die-hard fans and not without cause: A founding member of the group, her haunting vocals have always been a necessary part of the band's texture.
See also: our gallery of the show.
But missing Deal is only one of the band's problems. At the El Rey show last night, a sloppy and tepid performance marred the whole first half. Everything sounded just a little bit (and sometimes a lot) off and not in a good, barroom stomp of Neil Young and Crazy Horse way. They seemed unrehearsed and, to be frank (har har), bored with their material.
The first half of the set included their cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Head On," a completely uninspired version of "Wave of Mutilation" and a downright sloppy take on "Broken Face." Black Francis can still scream, Joey Santiago can still make a guitar shriek and David Lovering can still pound the drums. What Shattuck lacked in vocals she easily made up for in bass chops and stage presence. The problem is that they all seemed to be playing different songs at different times, and without a great deal (har har) of interest in the material.
A look over at the schedule behind the bar showed that the band would be playing for 90 minutes; for much of the first half, we found ourselves staring at the clock.
Yet, somehow around the halfway mark, somewhere in the middle of "Debaser," they pulled it together. The band broke through some kind of wall, despite the fact that Black Francis looked like he was going to pass out and or die at any second. Everything tightened up, and tightness is what makes the difference between Pixies as a delicious little bit of noise pop and a splitting headache. Shattuck began to display more confidence with her backing vocals as well, making everything really gel.
By the time the crowd was singing along enthusiastically with "Gouge Away" all our snarky thoughts evaporated. They were still stationary as statues, but we were able to catch of a glimpse of what lay underneath the scruffy band from Boston who never cared much about image -- soaring pop gems that alternately scream and whisper.
No matter how much the crowd begged, no encore was forthcoming. This showed that underneath the surface of what's effectively an indie rock oldies act, the surly demeanor of the Boston underground has remained intact.
If nothing else, they proved they can do it with or without Kim. The fans got what they wanted out of the night and when you're a reunion act in your 40s, that's really all that counts.
See also: our gallery of the show.
Personal Bias: I actually took the class at Umass that "Debaser" is about. What's up, Don Levine?
The Crowd: A whole lot of people who graduated college in 1993.
Random Notebook Dump: Some random balding dude in front of me kept pinching his nipple through his wifebeater. It was a little weird.
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