Influential indie-rock band The Pixies played the second of their NZ shows last night in Wellington, longtime fan Kirsten Johnstone was not disappointed.
As a teenager they were "my band", one of the most cathartic forces I could put in my tapedeck. Last night was the first time I’ve seen them live, despite them re-uniting over a decade ago. Did it ever have a chance of living up to my hopes of what a Pixies show might bring?
My initial reactions don’t bode well. They start the set a little sloppy, some tempos losing that urgent, unsettling feeling. It seems for a moment as though they’re just going through the motions. There’s just the four of them on that big stage, and it feels like the heart is missing somehow.
The high speed at which they plough through their 30 songs is unfaltering, there’s barely time to take a breath between them. As drummer David Lovering revealed last week to RNZ, the band don’t write a set-list down. Every night is different - and this sure keeps the band on their toes. There’s only one fraction of a second where both the band and the audience are fooled - in the opening riff of ‘All I Think About Now’, bass player Paz Lenchantin’s tribute to her predecessor Kim Deal’s song ‘Where Is My Mind.’
Lenchantin fills those boots well, her bass lines are full and clear, her voice has a similar husky quality to Deal’s. I hope that Black Francis (real name Charles Thompson) allows her the space to grow her songwriting chops and shine out in front more if they’re to keep recording and performing together. His jealousy of Kim Deal was reportedly the reason the band broke up the first time around.
Black Francis himself still has a fantastic vocal range, going from the shouts and roars of a song like ‘Debaser’ to a falsetto croon in ‘Where Is My Mind.’ His lyrics have never been poetry, or obvious political statements - they barely make any sense at all. Rather, he delights in the rhythmic and onomatopoeic qualities of words, swilling them around and spitting them out with precision.
By halfway through the set, it seems like both the audience and band have warmed up - ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ from Pixies’ latest album Head Carrier causes much moshing (a word I haven’t used much since the 90s) up front, and they follow it up with the breakneck paced Spanish language song ‘Isla De Encanta’ from their first EP Come On Pilgrim. Then it’s ‘Crackity Jones’ and ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ from their 1989 album Doolittle. This bracket of songs is a highlight of the show for me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who has the lyrics and cadence indelibly etched in my mind. The band are pretty faithful to the recordings we know and love, though I’d love to see them stretch out and improvise a little in places.
Joey Santiago’s guitar lines are economical and lyrical, there’s no frilly solos here, and drummer David Lovering keeps the pace pretty relentlessly. He makes a baritoned vocal cameo on the woozy ‘La La Love You’ while Francis shows us his whistling skills and the band pass around a swoony ‘I Love You’.
Pixies deliver all the hits (except Kim Deal’s greatest one ‘Gigantic’) and prove that their new songs are just as good as the vintage ones. The crowd at Wellington’s TSB Arena reflects the wide demographic of their fanbase - 50 year olds who saw them the first time around are bouncing alongside their 15 year old offspring, both parties excited to be there. The band never says one word to the audience, but we don’t hold it against them. It is a cathartic, shouty good time, and my 15 year old self isn’t disappointed.