By Sarah Taylor
With a career spanning five decades and a slew of instantly recognisable hits including ‘Where Is My Mind?’, ‘Hey’, ‘Debaser’, and ‘Here Comes Your Man’, Boston alt-rock pioneers Pixies delighted Mancunian audiences with an epic 30-song set of greatest hits, deep cuts, and the occasional new number.
Their second and third albums Surfer Rosa and Doolittle are considered instant classics by the music press and fans at large, frequently appearing on best albums of all time lists. Headed by Black Francis, whose immense and unique vocal range arguably sets the group apart from other acts of their genre, Pixies have influenced countless alternative rock acts including Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Fontaines D.C., and Wolf Alice.
Pixies were preceded by Dutch rock outfit Klangstof, whose third album Godspeed to the Freaks will be released in September 2022. The band could have benefited with being onstage a little later, but still managed to attract a steady crowd, as Koen van de Wardt’s icy vocals soared across ambient synth-laden soundscapes and Joy Division-esque riffs. You can read The Mancunion’s interview with Klangstof here. Next, Mancunian rockers The Slow Readers Club took to the stage, providing a suitably guitar-heavy precursor to the headliners’ set.
Between songs banter and a conventional encore are non-existent – the Pixies are far too cool for that. Instead, they blast through their gigantic setlist, with instrumentation so tight, and Black Francis’ vocals so faultless that you could easily mistake them for the original studio recordings. That’s not to say that the Pixies did not create an electric atmosphere – they certainly did, as fans moshed to punkier tunes and swayed to softer ones, revelling in the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the acclaimed rockers.
The Boston natives demonstrated their range with classic cuts from their acclaimed third record Doolittle – from the ska-heavy ‘Mr Grieves’, the tumultuous ‘Tame’, wherein Black Francis let out screams so guttural, they must have carried over to Manchester’s sister city of Salford, and the album’s formidable closing track ‘Gouge Away.’
Props must be given to bassist Paz Lenchantin who has been with the band for almost a decade now, sufficiently filling the shoes of ex-member Kim Deal, who went on to form The Breeders. Paz takes lead vocals on the band’s iconic 1988 single ‘Gigantic’ – and its this tune which allows the audience a well-deserved break from the mosh-pits of earlier energetic numbers. Pixies are infamous for their bold basslines and Paz plays these with unflinching ease.
The band open with Surfer Rosa’s ‘Cactus’ but its during their second song of the night, ‘Here Comes Your Man’, that they really get the crowd going. Pixies only have to play its opening guitar twang and in the millisecond between this and the next note, fans are already cheering in anticipation of what is to come. Despite it being a considerably tamer cut from the band, the audience still manage to bounce around to its chorus.
During Pixies’ euphoric 90-minute set, at least two dozen pints are chucked into the air along with jackets, shoes, and even a paper bag – I’ve been to a lot of gigs but never in my life have I seen so many flying objects! Seasoned Pixies fans may be unsurprised by this, however, given their more visceral tracks like ‘Broken Face’ and ‘Crackity Jones.’
Not ones to rest on their laurels, Pixies played their standalone 2022 single ‘Human Crime’ and the lead single from their forthcoming eighth LP Doggerel, ‘There’s a Moon On.’ Decades of touring have also enabled the band to experiment with their live shows, throwing in a trio of covers – namely, Neil Young’s ‘Winterlong’, The Surftones’ ‘Cecilia Ann’, and The Jesus and Mary Chain’s ‘Head On’ – which complimented the cuts from their own lengthy catalogue.
Their experimental and genre-defying discography felt timeless at Castlefield Bowl, as Black Francis’ voice soared to tremendous heights during the bridge (“If the devil is six / Then God is seven!”) of ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven.’ Standing out as a particular highlight of the night, perhaps because it is my favourite Pixies’ track, the mass sing-along it inspired could only really be rivalled by the band’s closing tracks: ‘Hey’ and ‘Where Is My Mind?’. The latter, made even more famous by its inclusion in David Fincher’s Fight Club (1999), made for an emotional end to the night as the fuzzy, nostalgia-infused guitar lines carried across Castlefield Bowl and concertgoers climbed atop their friends’ shoulders to soak it all in.
Pixies prove that sometimes the music simply speaks for itself. Their no-frills stage set-up of a simple black backdrop emblazoned with their logo and lack of onstage chat did not detract from the band’s captivating stage presence. It simply confirmed their status as alt-rock legends.
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