Concert Review: (Part of) Pixies at Bowery Ballroom: September 17, 2013
Twenty-six years ago the Pixies were booked to play the supporting act for Throwing Muses. This was a big show for them – future Doolittle producer Greg Norton was in attendance. However, at the last minute, Kim Deal had to back out of the show due to a family medical emergency. Charles Thompson, aka Frank Black, aka Black Francis referred to his band that night as “Part of Pixies” due to Deal’s absence. Last night I got my first chance to see the now-permanent Part of Pixies (featuring Kim Shattuck of the Muffs on bass replacing Deal) blow the doors off at Bowery Ballroom.
With the departure of Deal from the band in June, it was expected that a little something would be lost from what made the Pixies one of the underrated great bands of the past three decades. But one day after the announcement of her departure the band released its first new song in forever, the catchy “Bagboy”, with Shattuck on bass and supporting vocals. Last week they released a four-song EP that includes two songs that belong amongst the Pixies best – “Indie Cindy” and “What Goes Boom”. The new songs are pretty good – it seemed that perhaps the band could carry on without missing beat. After seeing them live though it’s obvious that while Deal’s bass might be able to be replaced, her voice can’t, and perhaps more importantly, her presence in the Pixies is completely irreplaceable.
Let there be no mistaking what I’m saying – Part of Pixies rocked. One of their first songs of the night was a Jesus and Mary Chain cover (“Head On”) which established the tone for the night – loud and heavy. From that point on there were multiple opportunities for the excited crowd to delight in the noise and screams coming from Black Francis & Co. “Tame” is one of the best songs I have ever heard live; on that song the three remaining band displayed that none of them has lost even the slightest bit from what makes them individually brilliant singers (Black), guitarists (Joey Santiago) and drummers (David Lovering). Despite being very new, “What Goes Boom” was a crowd favorite in the middle of the set . (“Indie Cindy” directly followed it and was good, but not as good as the excellent recorded version.) Part of Pixies then ran through a variety of new songs, older favorites, older deeper cuts … just a random assortment of wonderful noise that kept the crowd buzzing all night. In an interview years ago with Ben Sisario, Black mentioned that people love the song “Hey” but that he doesn’t quite understand why. Last night “Hey” was one of the highlights of the night, and I can explain what Black couldn’t – as a live song it is haunting, spooky, emotional, and yet liberating. The crowd sings along because it’s easy to do so, but even so the song remains unsettling. This is the Pixies at their best.
Thus, for most of the night it felt like we were getting the Pixies at their best. Deal’s absence was largely forgotten as the night went on and the crowd – myself included – was filled with glee. But when all was said and done it cast a shadow over the show. Missing from the set were fan favorites “Gigantic”, “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, and “Debaser.” It’s easy to understand skipping the Deal-sung and written Gigantic, and possibly even Monkey (on which she provides important backing vocals), but to not find a way to work in Debaser is, in my opinion, inexcusable. The song is a loud, shrieking assault and would have fit in perfectly with the evening’s theme. My guess is that it didn’t make the set list (consciously or subconsciously) because it is in part also a funny song (dark comedy, but still funny), and when I speak of the presence that was missing this is what I am referring to. Deal brought levity to the Pixies; she allowed you to exhale while Black made you scream. She was consistently the only member of the band to speak to the crowd during the show – last night there was virtually no in-between-song banter. Perhaps her absence is best exemplified by Part of Pixies leaving out a song that really has nothing to do with Deal – “La La Love You.” This song is the only one in the Pixies repertoire on which Lovering provides lead vocals, and it is also clearly a parody of a love song as only the Pixies can do. But this type of humor doesn’t fit with the new band – Black’s temperament needs Deal as a counterbalance in order to make the Pixies what they were – a sweet and sour musical feast.
So Part of Pixies left out too many of their hits. They didn’t play enough off of Surfer Rosa or Doolittle for my tastes. (I’m not one to say that a band should only play the hits, but in this case, when you’re a band from the past that put out two of the greatest albums of a generation, I think focusing on those makes sense.) And there was no engagement with the crowd even in the intimate Bowery Ballroom setting. Yet with all that said, Part of Pixies is a band I wouldn’t want to miss. Black can sing as great as ever – how he’s kept up the wailing for so many years is unfathomable – Lovering is a brilliant drummer and Santiago arguably stole the show on guitar. The guitar solo that Santiago put on during “Vamos” – the second to last song of the night before everyone’s favorite, “Where is My Mind?” – was probably the single greatest solo I’ve ever seen in person. This isn’t the Pixies, probably my favorite circa 1990 band. It isn’t even the Pixies that I saw play a special Doolittle show in 2011. But Part of Pixies is every bit as good live as their contemporaries going strong now, such as Dinosaur Jr. and Mudhoney. They are a heavy band playing LOUD alternative rock music as good as any band out there. I’m glad I wasn’t foolish enough to miss it.
Pixies at Bowery Ballroom – 9/17/13 Setlist:
Big New Prinz (The Fall cover)
Head On (The Jesus and Mary Chain cover)
Something Against You
Distance Equals Rate Times Time
What Goes Boom
Isla de Encanta
Wave of Mutilation
Blue Eyed Hexe
Planet of Sound
I’ve Been Tired
The Holiday Song
Where Is My Mind?