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.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

A Whole Lotta Unrelated Observations

There's this old man that I see running around Lake Harriet just about every day. If I had to nominate someone to be the official Mascot of the Twin Cities, I think I'd pick him. He rules. I'd put him in mid-to-late 60s, pretty decent shape for his age, still has most of his hair. But these are the things that make him awesome: first, that he always has this crazy grin on his face, like “hell yeah, I can still run!” Second, that he always, always, always does the run in jeans and a button-down shirt (and yes, the shirt is generally buttoned-up). When I'm hitting retirement age, I want to be that hard-core.

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I might be wrong about this, but this year seems like the earliest opening of mountain bike season that I can remember... mid-April and I'm riding already, and I'm not the first one on the trails by any stretch of the imagination. On Saturday, I rode the western half of the Minnesota River Bottoms trail, and it was only slightly less crowded than a ride around Lake Calhoun. And the crowd spanned the entire range of mountain bikers-- hard-core guys with tons of tatts and downhill bikes, families taking children for a nature ride that was a little over their heads, college-age morons on shitty bikes riding without helmets or shirts, and lots of ordinary biker schlubs like me. It was crowded, but still very excellent to be riding.

And it's weird... in the heart of the city, it's not very apparent that we're in a drought. The only indication that I can think of is that cars that don't get washed regularly are now looking pretty gnarly because of all the grit sticking to them. But that's it. Down on the river, however, it was really, really obvious that we need rain. The river itself is crazy low, and the ground around it is cracked and peeling-- that's going to make for some dusty riding if things don't get better. All of the plants look stunted down there.

So I guess I hope it rains, so that my favorite ride doesn't get trashed. But, ironically, I want the rain to come at a time that doesn't keep me from riding.

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I'm typing all of this on my newly-purchased laptop, and the new piece of technology is causing mass cat freakout. The cats don't know what this big, warm, noisy (I've got the Pixies' Minneapolis show blasting) thing taking up my lap is, but they know they don't like it. So my arm keeps getting attacked, I'm constantly keeping hefty cats from strolling across the keyboard, and the second I put it down, they'll probably band together and try to kick its ass.

It's good that Toshibas have a rep for being tough.

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I always thought that the Replacements' All Shook Down was a pretty crappy album, probably their worst. But I've been listening to it in the car a lot lately, and I think I wasn't giving it enough credit. If you approach it wanting a replay of Tim and Pleased to Meet Me, then sure, it's a disappointment. And that's exactly where I and pretty much every other Replacements fan was coming from. But if you set those expectations aside and actually listen to the thing, it holds up really well... Westerberg has some great, great songs there. The general vibe is pretty much the same as his subsequent solo albums, but without the world-weary creative burnout that makes the lesser solo albums (say, Eventually and Suicaine Gratification) such downers to listen to. “Nobody” is among the most evocative songs the guy has ever produced, and “Merry Go Round” is a fantastic piece of pop.

And I think that's the key to enjoying All Shook Down-- you have to be out of ass-kickin punk mode and more into enjoying quality pop. If you're young and trying desperately to keep your hard-core edge, that's impossible.

You sort of have to grow up to like the album.