Pixies play intimate show at Band on the Wall, Manchester
By Sarah Taylor
July 19th inadvertently became a day of rarities. The date marked the hottest day ever in the UK, as temperatures soared to 39 degrees in Manchester. It also marked the day that Boston alternative rock icons Pixies played an enthralling, epic 41-song set to a tiny sold-out crowd at Band on the Wall. 500 sweaty bodies packed themselves inside the Northern Quarter bar to catch a glimpse of Pixies at their “secret show” which had been announced barely 24 hours beforehand.
The band only played at Manchester’s 8,000-capacity open air theatre, Castlefield Bowl, two weeks ago to the day, as part of the annual Sounds of the City celebrations. But it was clear the Mancunian crowd’s adoration for Pixies was mirrored by the band themselves.
I spoke to a family friend, who hails from Boston, and grew up listening to Pixies, about the show. She told me they would play secret shows like this all the time when she was a teen, often popping up unexpectedly at small bars, and making unannounced appearances at local venues.
Pixies, comprised of Black Francis (lead vocals, guitar), Joey Santiago (lead guitar), Paz Lenchantin (vocals, bass), and David Lovering (drums), barely came up for air during their tumultuous set. Each member looked at ease on stage, making some of the most iconic and musically intricate melodies look effortlessly cool.
Pixies’ group dynamic is unparalleled with each element coming together to produce an end result that has been the object of envy and emulation by Nirvana, Radiohead, and PJ Harvey, to name a few. Strutting promptly onstage at 8pm, the band opened with ‘Ana’, a track taken from their third LP Bossanova.
The band seemed much more relaxed at Band on the Wall – perhaps this was just because I could get a better look at them, being closer to the stage. The laid-back bar atmosphere suited the band well, and despite his infamous little-to-know speech between songs, Black Francis even managed to crack a smile, and introduce some of the new tracks. They continued to spew out a lengthy string of hits including ‘Here Comes Your Man’, ‘Break My Body’, ‘Hey’, ‘Nimrod’s Son’, and ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven.’
Paz couldn’t stop beaming as fans cheered her on, particularly during ‘Gigantic’, the band’s huge 1988 hit, where she lends herself to lead vocals. Lenchantin’s ability to captivate between her bewitching vocals and skilful bass-playing was met with supportive chants, though one confused gig-goer did mistake her for ex-bassist Kim Deal and received several funny looks from other audience members as a result.
They preceded to play for over two hours, amounting to a sprawling 41-song setlist of hidden gems, old favourites, expert covers, and even debuting some new material from their forthcoming album Doggerel, which is due for release on September 30th. Amongst the new material from Doggerel was: ‘Who’s More Sorry Now?’, ‘The Lord Has Come Back Today’, and ‘Vault of Heaven.’
The set was fairly reliant on their most-loved record Doolittle, as they played 11 of its 15 tracks. I was particularly pleased to hear ‘I Bleed’ and ‘There Goes My Gun’, both of which they did not play at Castlefield. In the final third of the setlist they played some of their most visceral, and mosh-pit friendly, songs including the back-to-back madness of ‘Crackity Jones’, ‘Broken Face’, and ‘Debaser.’
Having attended their Castlefield show too, I cannot avoid commenting on the crowd’s lacklustre response. Maybe it was the heat, or maybe it was that concertgoers simply wanted to say they had been there. But for a band so revered, so technically talented, and with an abundance of singalong hits, Pixies deserved better at Band on the Wall. That being said, the band played excellently, and people did generally seem mesmerised, quietly taking in the scenes before them.
Notably absent was Pixies’ best-known single ‘Where is my Mind?’ – many predicted they would close on it, as they had at Castlefield Bowl, and when the band departed from the stage with a wave after Surfer Rosa’s excellent ‘Bone Machine’, many thought they would return for an encore. However, the band chose to close on this number, returning only to take several bows. This didn’t matter too much as the crowd greeted the band with ample applause, and guitar pics were caught by a lucky few.
You can pre-order the new Pixies’ record Doggerel here.
You can read my review of Pixies’ Castlefield Bowl show here.