Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Concert Review- The Pixies, The Fine Line Music Café, Minneapolis, April 13

(Note: this was originally written for PopMatters.com; however, after sitting on it for a week, they decided not to run it, because—and I am not making this up— they don't like to run concert reviews that are unabashedly positive. Yes, it's pretty gauche to go to a show and enjoy it and say good things about it. After getting this reminder, I will duly prepare myself to spend this Saturday night at the Electric Six show cataloging all of the ways they suck. I hear they're not very respectful to women, either)

There's really only one question worth considering about the first show of the Pixies' surprise comeback tour: did they deliver the goods, or are the Pixies becoming the Rolling Stones of early 90s rock? Did they rock the house, or is this another example of a once-vital band turning into a bunch of terribly-aged sellouts riding the nostalgia gravy train?

Let me put it this way: I have a long, long history of being underwhelmed by things. I can't count how many times I've sat or stood through an event that was supposed to be a big deal and thought, "you know, I guess it's nice that everyone else is enjoying this, but… meh."

And, keeping that in mind, I just about shit my pants last night when the Pixies kicked into "Wave of Mutilation."

Yes, they delivered the goods. Yes, they played it like they meant it- based on the bootlegs I've heard, they played with more fire than they were just before the breakup. I know what it looks like when a band phones it in, and believe me, that was not at all the case with the Pixies. Not even remotely.

They all looked a lot older (Frank Black actually looks like he's on his way for a casting call for the Brando role in a remake of Apocalypse Now), but the difference appears to be only cosmetic. Everything that made the Pixies great the first time around was still very much in evidence…. the thundering drums, playing around the rhythm instead of just thumping it out. Santiago's eccentric-but- melodic guitar lines. Most of all, though, the perfect marriage of ass-kicker thrash music with weirdly pretty pop vocals—I've come to think recently that the real key to the Pixies' greatness was that they were a pop band that knew how to rock out instead of an in-your-face hardcore act. Kim Deal and Frank Black could sing together in front of the Beach Boys and it wouldn't sound out of place at all.

The set skewed heavily towards the early albums. Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa, and Doolittle were all pretty well-covered, while Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde got relatively little love—just a song or two from each. And if I have any misgivings about the show at all, it's that there were a passel of songs I was dying to hear ("Head On," "Rock Music," "Planet of Sound," and so on) that didn't make the muster. But balls to that. Any band with a catalog that wonderful is going to have to leave some stuff out, and they did play several songs that I figured were long shots at best, like "Levitate Me" and "Into the White."

I can think of very few moments in my life where a large group of people have all radiated pure love… For example, the day the Special Edition version of Star Wars opened, I was in a theater packed full of college students and right before the Fox fanfare played at the beginning, you could cut the good feelings in the air with a butter knife.

There was a similar feeling at the Fine Line last night. Several hundred nerdy, 30-ish music fanatics (half of whom seemed to be rock critics, judging by the ubiquity of notebooks) were very briefly united into one loving mass sharing a cultural moment. It was weird and wonderful, and that's what you get on those rare occasions that a big event lives up to its hype.

Death to the Pixies.

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