Pixies pave a motorway to weirdness at Massey Hall
By Tom Beedham (originally published via Aesthetic Magazine)
The last time Pixies graced a Toronto stage was in April 2011; the performance came under undeniably different circumstances. At the tail end of a globetrotting, two-year-long 20th anniversary tour for the band’s first international release, 1989’s Doolittle, fans piled into Massey Hall two nights in a row to celebrate a uniquely deranged album that frothed noisily at the mouth regarding subjects like surrealist painters and filmmakers, Biblical violence, and Japanese businessmen initiating murder-suicides with their families over failed business ventures. Having played Virgin Festival two years prior, the Molson Amphitheatre four years before that, and Mississauga’s Arrow Hall twice as part of their 2004 reunion tour, Massey Hall was the most intimate venue the band had played in or near the city since it graced The Silver Dollar in 1988.
The April 18, 2011 concert began with a standing ovation.
When original members Black Francis, David Lovering, and Joey Santiago returned to the same theatre last night sans Kim Deal, fans were less generous.
Despite balancing the first handful of songs between cuts from their earliest recordings and newer material, it wasn’t until Pixies got to popularly adored trunk song “Here Comes Your Man” — six tracks in — that the audience got to its feet and showed any real enthusiasm about the show. Granted, standing praise that welcomes concert sets is something of a rare event, but that the band was coming into town without the bassist and vocal harmony supplier to Black Francis’s caterwauling vocals couldn’t have boded well for the collective headspace the audience entered Massey Hall with. Maybe it was uneasiness over the elephant in (or missing from) the room that was bassist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle, Zwan) stationed at what would have been Deal’s mic; maybe fans were waiting for their drinks to take their effect; maybe they were just comfortable in those nicely cushioned seats their concert-going behinds were not accustomed to. But the band’s approach to the gig was fairly uncompromising.
Even if it allowed fans to hear Surfer Rosa’s “Brick Is Red” and “Nimrod’s Son” from the Come On Pilgrim mini-LP early in the program, these songs didn’t come until after some confrontation. The concert kicked off with a gloomy, plodding “Silver Snail,” a track that remains so far unreleased even though Pixies have issued two four-track EPs since Deal’s sudden departure from the band in June last year. They followed that immediately thereafter with an interpretation of Peter Ivers’s “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song),” first recorded by the band for its first demo in 1987.
How the second of these proceedings could be read as confrontational requires some elucidation, but it comes down to the delivery: now a regular fixture of Pixies live shows, when the band started playing “In Heaven” live, Black Francis sung it; Kim Deal eventually took over those duties in concert upon the band’s reunion, but Francis has now reassumed lead vocal duties. This implies that even though Pixies favoured recruiting a bassist/singer that was also a woman to maintain the diversity (sonic and otherwise) that Deal once brought to the table, it doesn’t mean that the band will continue to exist or act as it did with Deal still participating, nor should we expect it to.
This wasn’t the only moment of the concert coloured with perceivable (misdirected?) audience contempt: when Pixies got to the uber-popular “Where Is My Mind?” they sped through it at an accelerated pace, effectually making a listener’s darling into an inaccessible experiment in fast-forwarding. Other bands like Dinosaur Jr. have applied similar methods to popular songs such as “Feel the Pain” and made it work, but when Pixies did it last night, it just came off as sloppy: Francis stumbled over lyrics and some key note progressions were botched or missed entirely. Beyond raising unanswered questions about artistic responsibility to their songs and the fans that loved them, it made some wonder at why the band bothered playing it at all.
Maybe it was a joke. It still received what was probably the loudest and longest sustained applause of the entire night.
It wasn’t all disappointing and soul crushing, of course. Even without Kim Deal, this was the Pixies. They played a 33-song, hour-and-45-minute set that was heavy on cuts from Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, they debuted EP2 cut “Snakes” and the other new songs sounded great, new inductee Lenchantin rightfully shined under the spotlight (literally and figuratively) on bass-propelled tracks like “Hey,” “Bone Machine,” and “Gouge Away,” and during “Vamos,” guitarist Joey Santiago facilitated an epic, two-and-a-half-minute noise solo from the centre of the stage, swinging his guitar around and playing it backwards against his body, waving at fans as he fiddled with his pickup toggle while the feedback played out. It just got a little… weird. But that’s what makes the Pixies so great.
1. “Silver Snail”
2. “In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)” (Peter Ivers cover)
3. “Andro Queen”
4. “Nimrod’s Son”
5. “Brick Is Red”
6. “Another Toe in the Ocean”
7. “Here Comes Your Man”
8. “La La Love You”
9. “Indie Cindy”
10. “Motorway to Roswell”
11. “Bone Machine”
12. “I’ve Been Tired”
13. “Tony’s Theme”
14. “Levitate Me”
17. “Snakes” (live debut)
20. “Monkey Gone to Heaven”
22. “Greens and Blues”
23. “Where Is My Mind?”
24. “Gouge Away”
26. “Broken Face”
27. “Head On” (The Jesus and Mary Chain cover)
28. “What Goes Boom”
29. “Blue Eyed Hexe”
30. “Something Against You”
31.“Vamos” (2.5 minute noise solo)
33. “Planet of Sound”
Originally published via Aesthetic Magazine.