Do That Clappity-Clap Thing!

Putting our hands together for the Pixies, Mirah, and Stellastarr*

My sister has to tie down her hands so that she won't slap herself in the face. I nearly have to tie my own hands over my mouth to keep the laughs from escaping when she tells me this.

I'm on the phone talking to the elder Maerz, whose newly honed James Earl Jones drawl reflects the fact that she's been drugged up for hand surgery, which was needed to remove the glass that has been lodged in her paw since a concert we saw together three months ago. (Suffice it to say the night included a fist-pounding beat, a broken beer bottle, and a glam-rock "nurse" whose lipstick looked suspiciously like Type O.) My sister explains that the doctors restrained her limbs, because when hand surgery patients huff the anesthesia, their first impulse is to whack themselves in the face.

Oh my golly: The Pixies perform their first show in 11 years
Tony Nelson
Oh my golly: The Pixies perform their first show in 11 years

I wonder, Is this an impulse to wake ourselves up? And if so, why don't I need to tie down my arms every time God passes me my new business cards, which read "City Pages' Music Editor and America's Next Top Model"? But then it dawns on me: Maybe when we're not anesthetized, our subconscious is constantly fighting against us. Maybe we always want to beat ourselves up.

This thought scares me. All week during concerts, I keep my hands in my pockets. I don't take them out for tickets. I don't take them out to drink. I don't even take them out to clap. And when I reach the end of the week without a black eye, I exclaim to my sister, "I don't need to be restrained! My willpower is better than yours!"

Strangely, that's when I get slapped.

 

The Pixies, Tuesday April 13 at the Fine Line Music Café Fans are so desperate to see this sold-out reunion performance that those who cannot birth babies to trade on the black market for tickets have probably already paid a markup of Halliburtonesque proportions just to watch the Pixies play. True story: A local webzine critic only finds an available ticket because the friend of one concertgoer died. "Who am I going to have to kill to get into the show?" he was heard to joke long before learning the sad circumstances behind his entrance pass. Later, I hear a woman justifying the transaction: "You'd pay a lot more than 30 bucks to see Jesus, wouldn't you?"

I can't blame him for taking the ticket. For the first time in the 11 years since the Pixies last hit the stage, Frank Black's sing-scream falsetto sounds pitch-perfect. With the spotlight illuminating his round, pale, bald person, he glows as if his circulatory system were strung through with Christmas lights. And even though the "Pixies Sell Out" T-shirts on sale at the merch table make it clear that the band is primarily out for the money--there are no frills, no between-song dialogue, just a straight Greatest Hits run-through of singles like "Caribou," "Monkey Gone to Heaven," and "Gigantic"--the crowd's big, big love for the music just grows.

Halfway through the show, the bearded gentleman next to me commandeers my notebook to pen a feverish three-page love letter to the band. (Though the tipsy handwriting is hard to read, I notice it's punctuated with a drawing of an anatomically correct naked man who is apparently very excited to see the show.) And when the band cuts out the final chords of crowd favorite "Where Is My Mind," Bearded Guy joins the 1,000-plus people who lift their voices for the final a cappella Oooh-oooh! The yawp sounds positively joyful. Even poker-faced bassist Kim Deal can't help but crack a smile.

 

Mirah, Thursday April 15 at the Triple Rock Social Club When singer-guitarist Emily Zeitlyn opens this gig with monotonous coffee-shop pluckings, my friend looks at the cross-legged concertgoers and whispers, "I guess this is a sit-on-the-floor show."

Yep, I think. It's also a fall-asleep-on-the-floor show.

And yet, when Zeitlyn's sister Mirah takes the stage, I quit yawning. The acoustic chanteuse may be the only introvert in coke-bottle glasses whose helium-laced voice can command such rapt attention from a punk bar crowd.

"Do that clappity-clap thing," she demands in a Jiminy Cricket chirp. And as she lulls the rhythm-challenged audience with the Latin-tinged strumming of "The Dogs of B.A.," they comply with big and little claps that ignite with Jiffy Pop randomness. Yet no one makes a sound when Mirah slides into the slow, shy hum of "Sweepstakes Prize." "You remind me of a firework, boy," she murmurs sweetly as fans climb up onstage to ogle their idol.

Only two kids in the room aren't looking. A bespectacled couple is slow-dancing in the corner, eyes locked on each other. "You sparkle and burn but you take your time," Mirah sings, and they nod. They're in no hurry for this to end.

 

Stellastarr*, Thursday April 15 at the 7th St. Entry Sean Christensen may have the most intriguing voice I've heard all year. It's snarky, it's sharp, it's full-bodied, it's multi-inflectional, and right now, it's being completely annihilated by Amanda Tannen's cat-in-a-washing-machine braying. I put a hand over one ear, relishing Christensen's gloomy new-wave guitar and drummer Arthur Kremer's deftly shaken sticks, which flap up and down with enough momentum to carry his drum kit skyward like a little spaceship. But when I put my hand down again, Tannen breaks the mood with an ear so tinny you'd need a can opener make her hear anything.

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