Pixies, 02 Academy Brixton, Monday 28th November 2016
Written by Zoe Spencer
It’s been 11 years since I last saw Pixies, at the Aircraft-Hanger-esqe Alexandra Palace. It was the fulfilment of a childhood dream. We camped out for hours in the empty hall to be sure of a front row spot. My other half had never really heard of Pixies but he still describes that night as one of the best live gigs he has ever seen. I was the stereotypical fan girl, totally smitten from first note – utterly blown away – it was a real high point of my gig going career. So, to say my expectations were high would be a gigantic (get it?) understatement.
Upon arriving at the 02 Academy I was treated to a very thorough frisk (I’m not sure the third bottom squeeze was entirely necessary…) and a bag search – sadly there was nothing more exciting than a notepad and pen (much to my friend’s amusement at how “old school” I am). Looking around at my fellow concert goers, I was hit with a sense of my own impending middle age; where were the Grungers? The Punks? Where were the bloody teenagers? I was awash in a sea of hipsters and ridiculous moustaches. My sense of displacement was further deepened by catching sight of the tea towels on the Pixies merchandise stand… what every middle-aged rocker needs….
Taking my place in the 5000-strong throng, a shadowy Pixies took to the stage, and without so much as a “hello Brixton” pre-amble, they are straight into the good stuff with the anthemic sing-a-long, “Where is My Mind?” The band is on form this evening, Black Francis’ vocals are as strange and wonderful as ever as they motor from one classic to the next – the set is relentless and spans all seven albums with even a couple of b-sides and covers of Neil Young’s “Winterlong” and Scottish veterans The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On” (featured on Pixies Trompe Le Monde Album) getting a look in.
The set sways from one decade to another, in a collection of songs spanning nearly 30 years. And yet, there are no songs that jar, of course the “Doolittle” and “Surfer Rosa” tracks are the ones that have the crowd singing along – the irresistible nod at a pop love song “Here comes your Man” is a particular highlight for me, and “Havalina” was beautiful. But newbies like “Tenement Song” from “Head Carrier” stand strong amongst the classics.
If I’m being completely honest there were times when the sound guys could have been working harder – bass and vocals were feeding back at several points in the first hour but Pixies have always had a rawness that can take a bit of buzz. I would have been disappointed to have left without a little bit of a headache!
The set motors on, song after song (although of course most Pixies songs come in short bursts) with not a peep in between – the stage is dark and back lit, full of smoke and the lack of banter adds to the surrealness they do so well… I was happy to see that guitarist Joey Santiago was completing the line-up after his recent stay in rehab with signature unpolished surfy tones. However, the real revelation for me was the wonderful Paz Lenchantin – having seen the original line up featuring Kim Deal, bringing a splash of colour to the monochrome stage with a large floppy red flower attached to the headstock of her bass. After so much time I wonder if the comparisons to Kim Deal become galling (Gigantic was a notable exception to the set – Monkey’s Gone to Heaven also sadly absent) however Paz stood her very leggy ground. The bass was deliciously punky and growly and her vocals strong – in that quirky way Pixies do so well.
When this 2-hour marathon draws to its tumultuous conclusion with a fantastic last run of “Hey”, “Gouge Away”, the magnificent “Debaser” and finally the throat wrenching “Tame”, the band take their bows in silence and leave the stage. Still not a word.
They return to the stage for their encore and the whole room is flooded with smoke – seriously it was like walking into a cloud – Pixies humour perhaps, because Paz then delivers a haunting version of “Into the White” before they disappear in the smoke screen like ghosts in the night.
In short as loud and weird and wonderful as you would come to expect although, next time guys, maybe say “hey” – after all we’ve been “trying to meet you”.
Where is my mind?
Break my body
Brick is red
Winterlong (Neil Young)
La La Love You
All the Saints
Here Comes your Man
Motorway to Roswell
Head on (The Jesus and Mary Chain)
I’ve Been Tired
Isla de Enchanta
Planet of Sound
All I Think About Now
Into the White