Three bald guys and one new girl; can the Pixies still cut it without Kim Deal?
Manchesrer O2 Apollo,
21st November, 2013
“It’s like great! Oh wait, he’s dead”. Black Francis (aka Frank Black) never got a great deal of mileage out of Kurt Cobain’s praise for the Pixies, in particular his love of ‘Debaser’. In a live interview conducted by Journalist and legendary DJ Dave Haslam, Frank revealed that the Pixies was, and still is, an “orgy of passive-aggressive behaviour”.
Before Kim Deal’s departure it was near impossible to imagine the band performing without anyone of its members; to try and conceive of a Pixies without the tortured sounds emanating from Joey Santiago’s Les Paul is just sick. Back on the road with Kim Shattuck, formerly of The Muffs, Pixies have refused to wallow in self-pity at the loss of the iconic fag-smoking bassist and carried on got on with the job at hand.
Backed by a Dire Straits-esque wall of what looked like television screens, the stage show has come a long way from what grainy archive footage would have you believe. In some ways the band shoot themselves in the foot; choosing to shun the pent up energy and excitement from the crowd by opening with ‘In Heaven (Lady In the Radiator Song) and the meandering ‘Andro Queen’. Bathed in a thick, concealing light, it wasn’t exactly the most immediate or intimate opening to a show. Slowly working their way back up to tempo, ‘Nimrod’s Son’ is a wet slap in the face, a pure shot of chaotic violence, and the arrival of the Pixies.
Talking to The Mancunion, Joey revealed that the band were at one point afraid of ‘Here Comes Your Man’, its popularity and its sound; immortalized on the classic album Doolittle. After a false start there was a look of some reluctance in Frank’s eye, choosing to indulge the crowd in what is perhaps the Pixies at their most pop sounding. Material from EP-1 garners a mixed reception. The unfamiliarly slick sounding ‘Another Toe’ passes by without any drama, but surprisingly the brutal, tribal sounding ‘What Goes Boom’ also falls short of expectations.
Being a bunch of working class guys, they’ve got a pretty good idea of what value for money is, and let me tell you a set list spanning 39 songs is pretty hard to beat – unless you’re Bruce Springsteen of course. But unlike The Boss and his heart on the sleeve ways, Frank’s lyrics are altogether much darker and to quote the man himself “Artsy-Fartsy”. ‘Hey’ is the epitome of Pixies weirdness; a loosely structured masterpiece, pedaled along by a quintessential Deal baseline and garnished with a tongue-in-cheek, if not a slightly perverse lyric “uh said the man to the lady/uh said the lady to the man she adored/and the whores like a choir/go uh all night”.
Pixies are one of the few ‘un-coverable’ bands, liable to imitation – hell yes (duh)! But, who could cover ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’? Bowie gave it his best with ‘Cactus’ but it still leaves a lot to be desired, more of a gesture than an alternative. That doesn’t however stop them from chancing their hand with three covers; ‘Big New Prinz’ by Manchester’s The Fall, The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Head On’ and if you weren’t a Neil Young aficionado you would swear ‘Winterlong’ was a Pixies original.
These reclusive rock stars are most at home in the studio, Frank has said that he had sometimes struggled to connect with his audience of adorers, instead choosing to hide behind his sunglasses and zone out. Closing the main set with ‘Where Is My Mind’ Charles looked genuinely overwhelmed by the reception and the vast array of teenagers and bald middle-age men stood before him.
New Kim evokes the same warmth we all loved about Kim Deal, her playing is a little muddier than her ‘precise’ predecessor but nonetheless Shattuck doesn’t hide in the shadows and asserts herself on tracks like ‘Tony’s Theme’.
Deal, or no Deal the Pixies are without comparison, there is no effect of age or diminishing power evident in their execution. There is only the internal tussle that goes on within my own head; yes, I have just seen the Pixies, but (and I don’t expect a prize for stating the fucking obvious) a Pixies that doesn’t have Charles and Kim, side-by-side on stage leaves one feeling restless. Whatever aura Kim Deal possesses is magical, and it’s only upon her return that I will feel truly, truly satisfied.