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Live Review: Pixies @ DAR Constitution Hall (2009.12.01)

Pixies 4

Ed. note: The photos from this review are from the first of two consecutive nights, while the review is based on the second.

All photos: Shantel Mitchell

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MP3: Pixies – Dancing the Manta Ray from Doolittle 20th Anniversary Live Sampler

The whole entire-album-in-one-concert trend has been derided as an attempt by artists to cash in or dumb down the concert experience to something as predictable as pushing play on your iPod. The Pixies had flashes of both at their show in Washington on Tuesday night, where they dusted off Doolittle and its B-sides. But then you remember, “Oh yeah, this is the f-ing Pixies,” and you count your blessings for being able to see what turned out to be an awesome show.

Pixies 5Maybe it’s because this is the last U.S. show of the Doolittle tour, but the band sounded so incredibly tight as they ripped through the 15 art rock sonic blasts from the 1989 classic. Black Francis was still able to hit all the shrieks and screams on cuts like “Tame” and “Crackity Jones,” while still being able to break out the lush melodies when called upon. Joey Santiago’s surf rock-tinged guitar riffs were crisp all night. Drummer David Lovering and bassist Kim Deal made sure the loud-quiet-loud formula the band pioneered stayed on the rails, with Deal adding her ever-sweet harmonies to serve as the yin to Francis’ howling yang.

Just after “Tame,” two songs into the album proper, Lovering nodded assuredly with a big grin on his face behind his drum kit. He knew the band was cooking, and he was right.

Catchier songs like “Debaser,” “Here Comes Your Man,” and “Wave Of Mutilation,” with their sing-along hooks, were definite crowd pleasers. All of the weirder, spacier tunes still had the flourishes that made them jump out on the album, and ultimately smoothed out the back-and-forth flow from sci-fi-influenced art rock to melodic punk-infused surf pop. The show opening and first encore were made up of the album’s B-sides. These songs, particularly “Manta Ray” and “Into The White,” managed to hold their own with the rest of the Doolittle material.

Pixies 3Now for the supposed pitfalls. For slightly over half the time from opener Mew’s departure to the Pixies taking the stage, there was a message being broadcast on a massive video board hawking CDs and USB wristbands with recordings from that night’s show available for sale. Tickets were just a shade north of $50, and t-shirts priced at $30. All this and the band’s stage presence, Deal being the only one to talk to the crowd between songs, made you wonder if the other three were just worried about the number of zeroes on the check.

But I find it hard to begrudge a band like the Pixies for reaping the benefits of their latter-day success after spending most of their peak years as critical darlings with little to show for it in America. The first reunion was life-changing for the group’s members, and if there’s any band who deserves the new found recognition, it’s these guys, particularly when you consider all the great bands in their wake that love to name check them as an influence. As for the stage presence bit– well, at least it looked like they were having fun with each other. That couldn’t be said over a decade ago. It couldn’t even be said for parts of the first reunion.

The dumbing down part is a little more complicated, because a good portion of the people in the second level of seats remained seated for most of the set.

Yes, during a Pixies concert.

Pixies 6As an aside, the floor was a madhouse during the show I saw at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom in November, so the phenomenon is not universal. It wasn’t until the band finished “Gouge Away,” and thus the album, that some of these people got off their bums to give the group a standing ovation.

Maybe this is why the band came out with a thundering, high-energy second encore that effectively put the group’s collective foot up the ass of anybody who dared to remain glued to a cushion.  They tore through high-energy rockers “Isla De Encanta,” “Broken Face,” “Something Against You,” and “Vamos,” causing fans in their theater seats to dance, jump around, even headbang . Though it looked like the band was done for the night, they decided they were having enough fun to stay on and cap off the evening with Surfer Rosa classics “Where Is My Mind?” and “Gigantic.” Whether it was the spontaneity of not knowing what was coming next or the raw energy from the music, it was clearly the rousing high point of the show.

That could probably serve as the perfect example for why the album-in-a-show concept should be eliminated. Then again, hearing a band like the Pixies deliver a masterwork with such virtuosity is a reason to keep kicking the tires.

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Set list:

B-sides
Dancing The Manta Ray
Weird At My School
Bailey’s Walk
Manta Ray

Doolittle
Debaser
Tame
Wave Of Mutilation
I Bleed
Here Comes Your Man
Dead
Monkey Gone To Heaven
Mr. Grieves
Crackity Jones
La La Love You
No. 13 Baby
There Goes My Gun
Hey
Silver
Gouge Away

1st Encore:
B-sides
Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf)
Into The White

2nd Encore:
Isla De Encanta
Broken Face
Something Against You
Vamos
Where Is My Mind?
Gigantic

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5 Responses to “Live Review: Pixies @ DAR Constitution Hall (2009.12.01)”

  1. Butters says:

    UN CHIEN ANDALUSIA!

  2. laduf says:

    Pretty much the worst review I’ve read (writing wise) regarding their entire tour. For starters, every writer knows that criticizing the audience is a weak weak way to write – not everyone is a mid-20s hipster fan of the Pixies. Most of their die-hard followers are well into their 30s… and don’t feel the need to jump around like you did.

    Next time, show this piece to an editor before you post it.

  3. Greg Szeto says:

    laduf-

    Actually, I thought Brandon did a competent job of conveying the quality of the performance, and made a little bit of a venture into the motivations behind the tour (something that should be considered, and commented upon, for every reunion).

    As for the crowd commentary, while maybe he decided to go a little overboard in decrying the sitters (his stylistic choice), I think it certainly bears mentioning if you think it affects your experience/the atmosphere of the performance. Crowd dynamics with the performer are always a factor in how a live show turns out (if you think otherwise, you are fooling yourself). And Brandon clearly stated he thought the Pixies’ higher energy level during the second encore was a direct result of crowd feedback.

  4. neek says:

    everyone at the show should have been on there feet the entire time. half the people there didn’t even seem like they came to see the pixies. it saddened me. i thought the show was classic pixies. amazing and straight to the point. it was a beautiful thing.

  5. Anonymous says:

    i think the thing with the audience standing or not has more to do with the venue than anything else. DAR is weird. seeing them at Sonar a few years ago was completely different and a much better atmosphere

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