Review by Tony BonyataBrian Eno once made the statement that despite the Velvet Underground selling only a few records in the '60s, everybody that did buy one started their own band. Such a claim may also very well apply to the Massachusetts-based band Pixies.
Photos by Phil Bonyata
If anyone doubts the importance of Pixies on the indie / alternate rock movement that started in the early '90s (and still continues today, although, unfortunately, heavily diluted from its original potent state), one needs to look no further than the testimonials of Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Radiohead's Thom Yorke, among countless others who've all cited Pixies as one of their major inspirations.
When vocalist / guitarist Black Francis (aka Frank Black), bassist / vocalist Kim Deal (later of Breeders fame), guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering cut their first album Come On Pilgrim in 1987 and their second helping Surfer Rosa soon thereafter, this odd foursome offered up something refreshingly unique from the then bloated excesses of corporate rock music. With squelching guitars, braying vocals (often with a possessed Spanish delivery), unsettling song structures and intelligent, often humorous lyrics, this band gave rock the long-overdue kick in the pants it was begging for throughout most of the '80s.
The band didn't start gaining the recognition they deserved, however, until their third effort Doolittle was released in 1989. With quirky pop songs such as "Monkey Gone To Heaven" and "Here Comes Your Man" Pixies were able to not only secure strong play on college radio but also cracked into commercial radio as well, thus turning the tides from overproduced MTV-pap such as Bryan Adams and Whitney Houston to something that actually had substance to it (not to mention that it also actually rocked).
Although Pixies broke up in the early '90 due to internal friction between bandmembers, the mark they left was immense. Their music helped pave the way for future alt-rock bands such as Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Jane's Addiction, along with literally hundreds of others.
Now I'll be the first to admit that reunion tours are usually a crock of shit - artists who once couldn't sit in the same room with one another, decide (years past their prime and well after the Porches and Perrier have dried up) to regroup for a quick cash-in (and, more often than not, without making any effort to produce any new material). But when I heard that Pixies decided to regroup for a tour, I must confess, I couldn't wait to hear this once-great band perform live again.
When the four took to the stage for their first show of their second leg of their current tour at the Milwaukee Theatre, they looked like anything but a rock band. Middle-aged, bald and overweight were the onstage physical attributes that the thirty-something crowd were treated to. But what emitted from this rather unsightly foursome was another thing altogether.
With a ferocious intensity the band ripped through thirty songs from their five-album back catalogue with no apologies, words of wisdom or political agendas to cloud the issue of a band whose only intent was to rock their asses off. In fact, if you didn't know their music better (and there weren't many in the house who didn't, as witnessed by a good majority miming along with every word) you would've sworn - by the way they furiously fused one number into the next - that it was just one immensely long song with one helluva lot of chord progressions, time changes and, above all, character.
While the set weighed slightly heavier towards their breakthrough album Doolittle (featuring wonderful takes of eclectic punk-influenced rockers such as "Tame," "Hey" and " I Bleed," as well as the more familiar "Monkey Gone To Heaven," and" Wave of Mutilation") they also packed in plenty of other favorites that spanned their all too brief career.
Commanding the center of attention was Black, who, with cleanly shaven head and stage swallowing girth, shouted and screamed through engrossing takes of the anthemic "U-Mass," "Subacultcha," "Debaser" and "Cactus" (the latter two which David Bowie, a huge Pixies fan, has covered in recent years), while Deal was afforded the lead vocals for the haunting "In Heaven," as well as the charming "Gigantic" (where she flubbed the intro and asked to restart it, which Black purposely ignored). Santiago's leads often sliced to the bone, as heard on the amphetamine-pumped "Crackity Jones" and "Broken Face," but also got a little heavy-handed during an unnecessary extended solo during "Vamos."
Sell-out or not, this immensely important band still managed to pull off one of the most amazing live shows of the year (hell, it was so damn good, in fact, I even got suckered into something I never do at a show - spring for the band's overpriced T-shirt). Oh yeah and by the way, Pixies, that Perrier was on me.
Pixies Milwaukee Setlist
Something Against You
Isla de Encanta
Veloria Wave of Mutilation
Ed Is Dead
Planet Of Sound
No. 13 Baby
Monkey Gone To Heaven
Here Comes Your Man
The Holiday Song
29. Wave of Mutilation
30.Where Is My Mind
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