April 24, 2011
Roy Wilkins Auditorium, St. Paul
The career arc of the Pixies has been fascinating, to say the least. The seminal band formed, recorded, a toured to modest acclaim and then broke up, only to see their legacy grow exponentially in the years following their demise. A successful reunion tour inevitably followed, but what fans don't see coming is that the band actually stayed together this time -- longer now, in fact, than their initial shaky run from 1986 to 1993.
With nary a single new song written between them and no hope for a new Pixies album on the horizon, a cynic might look at the recent Pixies tours as an easy opportunity for a cash grab. I'll admit, this thought crossed my own mind toward the beginning of their set at the Roy Wilkins last night, as the band started their set sounding uncoolly over-polished, with cheesy spotlights shining on each member as they sang. But as they churned out a few B-sides and then launched into "Debaser" -- the first track off of Doolittle, which they were slated to play straight through -- their little quirks started to show and all of the cynical thoughts faded away. The Pixies are better now than they've ever been, and how could anyone complain about that?
As pieces of confetti from a Flaming Lips show -- or maybe Tiesto? -- fluttered down from the ceiling, the main floor was in full-on celebration mode as they reveled in the note-perfect renditions of some of the band's most well-known songs. In lieu of a more spontaneous set list, the band kept things interesting by flashing images across a large screen at the back of the stage; everything from creepy little puppets to the band member's own faces kept the the eye entertained while the ear was sated.
At the album's halfway point, Kim Deal (who was in charge of all the stage banter for the evening) joked that it was time to flip the record over, and a video of the Doolittle vinyl spinning on a turntable played in the background as they launched into "Monkey Gone to Heaven."
Prior to "La La Love You," Deal paused to introduce the members of the band and endear herself to the near-capacity Twin Cities crowd. "I had a sister who lived in St. Paul for like nine years," she noted. "She loved it here. She lived on Grand."
Lead singer and chief songwriter Black Francis (a.k.a. Frank Black, who Deal introduced by his birth name, Charles Thompson) chose to focus all of his efforts on his playing and singing, but his workmanlike approach to performing paid off. Some of the most chilling moments of the show came when Francis let out his screeching banshee wails, with "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and "Hey" contrasting his vocal styles nicely and showcasing all that his pipes have to offer.
By the end of the encore, though, it had become the Kim Deal show. Before the band left the stage for the first time, all four members paced the edge of the stage slowly and waved graciously at the roaring crowd, and it was clear that the audience wasn't going to let them get away with only their first two-song encore. After a long pause, the band returned for a second encore and worked through five more songs, including the Deal-heavy hits "Where is My Mind?" and "Gigantic," which included a cute call-and-response joke between Deal and her bandmates. "Bring it down!" she yelled, and the band dropped out to leave just her bassline and a light splash of cymbal chugging forward. "20 years, and we finally learned how to bring it down," she laughed.
Which was all tongue-in-cheek, of course -- the band's loud-quiet-loud dynamic has been hailed as groundbreaking, not to mention that it served as the title for their reunion tour documentary -- but it showed that the band has an ease about them that was never there before. And that newfound camaraderie helped them to execute a positively blistering show.
Personal bias: I'd never seen the Pixies live and didn't get into their music until adulthood, so there was no nostalgia here for me. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect.
The crowd: Young pogoing kids in the front, older dudes in plaid shirts standing still in the back.
Overheard in the crowd: "Mooooooore! More!!!" -- The guy behind me prior to the second encore.
Random notebook dump: It's the Kim Deal show!
Dance the Manta Ray
Weird at My School
Wave of Mutliation
Here Comes Your Man
Monkey Gone to Heaven
La La Love You
No. 13 Baby
There Goes My Gun
Wave of Mutilation (U.K. surf version)
Into the White
Where is My Mind?