When we chatted with Black Francis of the Pixies last week prior to his band’s performance at the Cure-ated Pasadena Daydream event, he told us that he didn’t know what they were going to play, adding, “We basically just go into a rehearsal space before a tour for a day or two and then play a bunch of songs. The stuff that’s feeling the more legit in a particular moment, that’s what we play. We take a very practical approach.”
But holy shit, did the Boston band ever get it right. Despite their second billing, they got to play close to a headliner’s length set — 25 songs that are so brimming with quality that it pretty much felt like a greatest hits set until you realize that they actually played more than half of the “gothic” new Beneath the Eyrie album — “In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain,” “On Graveyard Hill,” “Catfish Kate,” “This is My Fate,” “St. Nazaire,” “Bird of Prey” and “Death Horizon,” plus “Classic Masher” from the Head Carrier album.
That’s eight songs post-reunion, and yet the momentum and energy wasn’t stunted at all. Black Francis told us that, “It takes people about two years after release with our audience in general for everyone to know what we’re playing,” and yet the gathered thousands lapped up the new stuff. Of course, they lapped up the old material a little harder. Because the Pixies got to whip out “Wave of Mutilation” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Here Comes Your Man” and “Debaser” and their cover of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s “Head On” and of course “Where is My Mind.”
Pitting new Pixies against old Pixies in competition, well, that’s just not a fair fight. Fortunately, they don’t have to worry about that stuff. While Kim Deal is still missed, Paz Lenchantin is part of the Pixies family now and her vocals, particularly on the closing “Gigantic,” are superb.
Robert Smith of The Cure is clearly a fan; during his band’s encores, he played a snippet of “Where is My Mind” in “Friday I’m in Love.” That appreciation is mutual, with Black Francis telling us, “They’re one of those bands form England from the ‘80s that probably influenced the Pixies sound a lot.”
It makes sense, even if they really don’t sound anything like each other. Both share a love for poetic, intellectual depth in the lyrics, both wallow in darkness if in different ways, both have a singer who doesn’t like to chat much between songs (and both seem to be reluctant rock stars), and both put on an amazing live show. It makes complete sense that there will be a crossover of fans.
The Cure’s set, like the Pixies, was crammed with crowd-pleasers and surprises. “Just One Kiss,” for example, was performed for the first time ever in the United States.
Smith genuinely looked like he was having a good time; this is a guy who often appears embarrassed by the adoration that’s heaped upon him by his many, many adoring fans around the globe and even here there were moments when the modesty is apparent. Bust generally, this was a relaxed Smith, confident in the knowledge that he and his band are at the top of their game.
Smith has never allowed The Cure to become a tired legacy act. He’s worked desperately hard to stop nostalgia from becoming the ruling factor in his art. But, like the Pixies, he also knows that his catalog is fierce, and songs such as “Boys Don’t Cry,” “Pictures of You,” “Lovesong” and “Lullaby” are always going make grown adults weep with joy.
And let’s talk about “Burn.” The song from the soundtrack to The Crow wasn’t ever performed live until 2013, and they’ve pulled it out on occasion since then. Why they waited so long, we’re not sure because it’s a blistering addition to the set. On Saturday night, it near lit up the Bowl.
“Boys Don’t Cry” ends the night, and then the Daydream is over. Everything we knew has been reinforced — that The Cure and the Pixies are still two of the best alt-rock bands in the world. Also, that Deftones’ nu-metal past is long gone as they continue to build on an already impressive legacy, that Throwing Muses should have been on the main stage, and that Chelsea Wolfe is going to be a lot bigger very soon.