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Live Review and Photos: Pixies, November 18, 2011, Fox Theatre – Bakersfield, CA



Photos by Philip Cosores

Is there a world record for the amount of times a band has played the same album live? If so, Pixies surely hold it. Their current tour, playing Doolittle in its entirety has been going on effectively since 2009, and now at the end of 2011, well after the tour should have expired, we’re still going. This is due to the longevity of this collection of songs, the fact that they’re still used regularly in pop culture (“Hey” was used in an episode of How I Met Your Mother no more than a month ago), and that it is still earning yet more recognition from modern day alternative music fans (shameless self-promotion: Doolittle placed number two in our top albums of the 1980s). This final stretch is surely the last ploy they have to extend it though; playing cities they’ve never played in before, and calling it the ‘Lost Cities’ tour. Although my initial stance was cynical towards the idea, having seen tonight’s performance in Bakersfield, CA, I have to say that I applaud them for it.

For tonight’s sold out show, everyone was in their seat well before the band went onstage, cheered as soon as the lights went down, and were out of their seats in applause well before the band had even taken to the stage. Some fans were probably looking forward to jump straight into “Debaser,” but the band begins the set with a quad of b-sides from the Doolittle era. Evidently this had confused and bemused fans in the past since Kim Deal warned the audience before each one that they were playing a b-side. When “Debaser” did come the crowd were more than ready to get shaking, jumping and singing along. Frank Black’s vocals in this song seemed a little dispassionate, but by now he probably knows how to play and sing the whole album in reverse while he sleeps so I can let him off here, especially since he more than made up for it on “Tame” (and everyone knows that “Debaser” is all about the guitars anyway, which were stellar). Black’s raucously growling vocals in the chorus of “Tame” seemed certain to tear his voicebox, but he has done this to his throat so many times now that it’s probably four times thicker than a normal human’s, which is advantageous to him, but I’m not sure if he can feel what he swallows anymore.

One thing that’s striking about Doolittle as an album is just how gruesome it is (except “La La Love You” – which is kind of gruesome in its downright cheesiness, especially set amongst these songs). But Pixies play up this factor in their stage show, which features giant eyeball-looking balloons, images of blood dripping down the video screen, piles of creepy-looking baby dolls crawling around on the background, and other unsettling images. The audience didn’t seem at all perturbed by this facet and bought into the show fully. Throughout the night they played along to just about every rock concert stereotype: cheering at the start of favourites, singing along to the choruses, holding up lighters in the slow songs, and physically getting involved with the lyrics where they could (“The man is five/devil is six/god is seven” section of “Monkey Gone To Heaven” saw many people holding up the corresponding digits).

Heading into the final portion of the album Deal admitted to the audience “This is where we get into more of the deep cuts on the album,” which seemed a little unfair to me. If anyone was truly relatively unfamiliar with “There Goes My Gun” before last night they’ll sure be making up for that error today as the performance was one of the best-sounding of the evening, with Deal and Black hitting the dual vocal of the chorus perfectly. Its follow-up, “Hey,” was a definite highlight, with Joey Santiago’s squealing guitar sounding as perfectly harsh as ever, and the key words of the lyrics (“whores,” “devil,” “chained” etc.) projected on the back helped everyone to sing along.

Following “Gouge Away” the band took their bow and left the stage, and unsurprisingly the audience gave them the loudest call for an encore I’ve heard for quite some time. When the band returned they played another couplet of b-sides. This nicely completed the full set of Doolittle-era material, but it’s hard not to feel that playing the “UK Surf” version of “Wave of Mutilation,” having already played the original, is a little pointless, especially when they have so many other songs their repertoire that the fans would have enjoyed more.

The audience still seemed thoroughly exhilarated, even by these lesser known songs, continuing their attitude of sheer positivity at the event taking place in their town. Their enthusiasm is understandable when you consider the main highlights coming up at the Fox Theatre are BB King, Merle Haggard, and Peter Frampton – none of whom are particularly known to rock in the same way as the Pixies. So are Pixies now seen in the same light as these artists? Possibly. The others will be playing sets packed with their greatest hit singles, while the Pixies play their hit album – but albums have always been the currency in independent music so perhaps it’s not so different. And, Pixies provided a mini ‘greatest hits’ set at the end of tonight’s show anyway, with a quintuple header of “Planet of Sound,” “Dig For Fire,” “Vamos,” “Where Is My Mind?,” and “Gigantic.” It wouldn’t surprise me if Pixies next did another tour of their ‘Lost Cities’ but instead played greatest hits. And, though the temptation would once again be to take a cynical stance, I’m certain that the audiences in those towns wouldn’t be, and they would show just as much enthusiasm once again as Bakersfield did on this special evening for the city’s alternative music fans.

Setlist:

Dancing the Manta Ray
Weird at My School
Bailey’s Walk
Manta Ray
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

Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)
Into The White

Planet Of Sound
Dig for Fire
Vamos
Where Is My Mind?
Gigantic


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