Photo by Chris Glass
The Pixies Revisit Doolittle Live
Concert review by Mark Kemp
Thursday, Sept. 9
Ovens Auditorium (Charlotte, NC)
Only a handful of albums in the post-Elvis rock canon are any more influential than 1989′s Doolittle — some Beatles records, a couple of Who discs and that first Velvet Underground LP. It’s not that the Pixies invented the familiar dynamic sound that combines ferocious noise with sweet, melodic pop, but they perfected it on their second full-length disc and within a few years Nirvana and Radiohead would introduce the combination to mainstream rock fans.
It’s not surprising, then, that the reunited Pixies would choose to mark the 20th anniversary of Doolittle‘s release with an extended tour that’s taken them from Europe to Australia over the past two years. On Thursday, the band arrived at Ovens Auditorium in Charlotte, N.C., to perform the second of 16 U.S. dates before wrapping up next month in South America and Mexico.
|Photo by Chris Glass|
Following a set of shimmering electronics from the U.K. duo Fuck Buttons, the Pixies hit the stage beneath a backdrop projection of the 1929 surrealist film Un Chien Andalou, Spanish experimental director Luis Buñuel and painter Salvador Dalí’s groundbreaking short that famously shows a man slicing a woman’s eyeball with a razor. It was a fitting atmosphere-setter, as that very scene inspired Pixies front man Black Francis to pen the memorable words to Doolittle‘s opening track, “Debaser”: “Got me a movie / I want you to know / Slicing up eyeballs / I want you to know.”
The Pixies eased into Doolittle, warming things up with a few comparatively obscure B-sides – “Dancing the Manta Ray,” “Weird at My School,” “Bailey’s Walk” and “Manta Ray” – before the guttural bass line of “Debaser” unleashed pandemonium in the packed auditorium. The crowd — young people in their twenties up to forty-somethings wearing Cure and Social Distortion T-shirts — rocketed up from their seats and sang along to the refrain, “Wanna grow up to be a debaser.”
Francis (aka Frank Black) kept a cool distance throughout the band’s hour-and-a-half set, saying nothing from the stage between songs. Wearing a gray button-down shirt and jeans, he casually strummed his blonde Fender Telecaster like a seasoned pro as second guitarist Joey Santiago delivered the blasts of distortion and roiling atmospherics. Bassist Kim Deal, playing a red Fender Precision Bass, and drummer David Lovering kept the momentum, Deal being the only member to actually address the crowd. Wearing a black sweater and jeans, she joked at one point that the band had to go back and learn some of the more obscure songs.
Some online complaints about the Doolittle tour have been that the Pixies performances, while solid, seem robotic and that the band members appear to be bored, not even feigning enjoyment. What those complainers may not realize is that even during the band’s heyday, the Pixies always adopted a detached cool demeanor onstage. Performance-wise, they’ve never sounded better — their hurricane of noise now down to a science, the loud-then-soft dynamics of each song calculated for maximum impact. And the backdrop films – grainy black-and-white images for haunting tracks like “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” deep, red blood drops for “I Bleed,” a claustrophobic view from New York’s Holland Tunnel for “Gouge Away” — provide a visual narrative consistent with the stunning graphic art of the band’s album covers.
After the final notes of Doolittle‘s closer, “Gouge Away,” the Pixies returned for two encores that found them more relaxed, performing popular tracks from other discs, including the thrilling surf-guitar chaos of “Cecilia Ann” from 1990′s Bossanova, as well as “Where Is My Mind” and the Kim Deal song “Gigantic” from 1988′s Surfer Rosa. If the Pixies, as Deal had told the crowd earlier, really had to learn or re-learn these songs, they’ve done a spectacular job of it.