The fellas in Pixies may look like they’re embracing dad rock – on Tuesday, the first of two nights at L.A.’s Theatre at Ace Hotel: guitarist Joey Santiago in his gentleman’s vest, frontman Black Francis sporting his dark-framed glasses, and David Lovering sporting that white sports cap – but the seminal Boston outfit played with the power of a group spearheading a new movement of punk rock.
Few can unleash a scream equal to Francis’, Santiago’s riffs are still innovative (and loud) as ever, and now with permanent new bassist Paz Lenchantin – a musician with not only impressive credentials (Billy Corgan’s post-Pumpkins outfit Zwan, A Perfect Circle) but with natural rock star flair – they sound as fresh as the new batch of songs they released via sixth studio album Head Carrier last September. Songs from that record played tonight harken back to a classic Pixies sound without relying on nostalgia – Santiago’s enjoyably jarring fretwork is largely responsible for such stylistic stability.
Of course, generally speaking, fans wanna hear the old stuff. At least in the Pixies case – largely because of their consistently cult following – most peeps were at least as enthusiastic about the hits (“Here Comes Your Man,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Where is My Mind?”) as they were about deep cuts (“ Nimrod’s Son,” “Into the White,” which saw the group disappear into a cloud of thick smoke as Lenchantin sang it for the one-song encore). But the disadvantage of a seated venue like the Ace – despite its beautiful atmosphere – reared its ugly head each time a new cut came up: it’s not that the quartet didn’t sound sharp (no, they rocked ridiculously hard on “Um Chagga Lagga” like a 20-years-younger version of themselves), but when folks don’t know a song and they have the option to sit down, they take it.
The show’s only other downside stemmed from a personal gripe (it should be noted that the band is a longtime fave and I’ve caught a lot shows over the years, so this isn’t some cynical critic just throwing punches to get a rise): Pixies always perform at a pummeling pace – there’s little-to-no-stage banter between songs, and most tracks are short, so they can fit in nearly three dozen of ‘em, easy – but for much of this gig, the rush overshadowed the band’s subtleties, one of their most affecting live appeals. Often it was as simple as moving one half-beat too fast (new cuts “All the Saints” and “All I Think About Now” lost their finesse to this fault), or not letting a chord ring out long enough at the end before launching into the next number. Most disappointing was the omission of a couple extra measures of Lenchantin leading the crowd through the ending ooh-ooh’s of “Where is My Mind?” – that all-in a cappella coda is typically transcendent.
Yet it’s doubtful those finer details were of concern to almost everyone else, and there were plenty of heartwarming moments where excitement over certain old-school choices (“Bone Machine,” “Debaser“) inspired seat mutinies – giddy guys and gals abandoned their assigned spots to dance in the gaps between aisles. And besides, the set list was among the group’s most prolific and potent: 31 songs from across every one of their albums (including relative rarities) plus choice covers of Neil Young’s “Winterlong” and the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On” (the latter Trompe Le Monde inclusion was a high-octane No. 2 tonight, one helluva way to follow kickoff “Gouge Away”). As far as classic alt-rock performances go, this one was pretty fucking legendary. Then again, these days so are the Pixies.
Words and photos by David Brendan Hall
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