Written by George Comber
To promote their tenth studio album, Doggerel, alternative rock Godfathers, Pixies, brought their unique, era-defining sound to Birmingham Forum.
It hasn’t been long since the Boston troupe have made the leap from across the pond – playing at the sold-out show at the Manchester Castlefield Bowl last July – but judging by the reaction of the crowd, it would seem like it has been a lifetime. The crowd at first were hung in hesitant expectation, the energy dormant in the sold-out crowd. When the lights went down in the auditorium, out came the familiar line-up, led by lead singer Black Francis raising his hand to the crowd with his electric guitar in the other.
First up was ‘Wave of Mutilation’. There was a stiff shuffling around the crowd as sparse groups pushed their way to the front, screaming the lyrics to the third track from Pixies’ 1989 album Doolittle. It wasn’t until the second song, ‘River Euphrates’, where the hardcore fans were filtered through to the mosh pit, a quick transition from what initially seemed a stagnant reception into total chaos.
If ever there was a bridge built between the young and older generations, ‘River Euphrates’ was the water that flows underneath. After this song, the mass of Pixies fans – be it their first or tenth time seeing the band play live – all sung, cheered and pointed at Black Francis (in hopeful expectation of him nodding back) arm in arm, together. Despite performing the much-loved classics from albums such as Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa for the last 30 years, again, and again, the intensity and musicianship from each band member had the same energy of that of a band still trying to convince an audience of their worthiness. The audience didn’t need much convincing.
Paz Lenchantin’s alluring backing vocals more than do justice to the ones captured on the original recordings by Kim Deal after her departure in 2013. Almost in their 10th year, the newly formed line-up which includes the highly influential, colourful guitarwork of Joey Santiago and the drums of David Lovering, providing the groove and rhythm the Pixies came to be so known for, all were on top form – as expected.
When given such a selection of innovative, culturally ubiquitous songs to choose from, the only issue is that of – ‘Which ones do we leave out?’ Pixies combined a generous selection of the fast-paced, mosh-inducing classics from Come on Pilgrim with the newly released tracks from their 2022 album, Doggerel.
Dividing the opinions of Pixies fans whether the group ought to continue releasing records after cementing their place as alt-rock icons more than 30 years ago, the set-list implies the Pixies’ evenly spread valuation of their sound and evolution; allowing the newer tracks such as ‘There’s A Moon On’ and ‘Haunted House’ to use their slower, more contemplative charm to compliment the chaos orchestrated by the songs that brought them there. After all, if, after playing the high-octane ‘Debaser’, you don’t follow it up with a song to close your eyes and float whimsically away with the soundwaves to, it might’ve been considered something of a health and safety hazard.
In which case, the five-minute break called when there was a technical issue with Black Francis’ guitar might’ve been considered a godsend.
After he was dissatisfied with how the band were playing their 1990 hit ‘Ana’, Black Francis stopped the performance and apologised to the audience before starting up again. With all smiles and laughs on the faces of the band and crowd, this is no Brian Jonestown Massacre, but a group of friends who love playing their songs together.
After giving a sonic stop tour through the myriad hits and crowd pleasers such as: ‘Hey’, ‘Gouge Away’, ‘Caribou’, Pixies circled the night off with a run of songs, first with their stripped down, acoustic rendition of Wave of Mutilation. I thought there was something poetic about playing the song that was – when first played – not given the full chaos from the crowd it deserved, in a rendition which encouraged such a tame response.
Drawing a line under the forever enigmatic, classic, essential ‘Where Is My Mind?’, Pixies adjoined those leaning from the balcony with those leaning on each other with a song to end all shows. But no. If that wasn’t enough, their signature cover of Neil Young’s ‘Winterlong’ sent audiences walking out with a look of those crazed by delight, dazed by exhaustion and feeling gigantic.
Pixies are a generational talent, who continue to break through each new generation with their timeless sound, furious live performances and unrelenting, insightful awareness of the musical body of work that ever evolves along with their legacy as rock icons.