Pixies Close Out Two-Night Stay at New York City’s Beacon Theatre [Review + Podcast]
I couldn't tell which song the Pixies tried to lead off with at last night's (May 27) show at the Beacon Theatre, but whatever it was, they scrapped it quick. Something wasn't working. Instead, Black Francis gave a quick look toward guitarist Joey Santiago -- or at least I think he did, because I could barely see him -- and then flew into the intro of "Something Against You," a blistering one off 1988's Surfer Rosa.
It was that match-striking quality -- of trying, on the spot, to light up, and then bursting into flame -- that defined the show. The band never referred to a setlist, instead following Black Francis' lead as he skipped from song to song on a whim. They went out on a limb, made themselves accessible, played their truly best material, and the rewards -- at least for us, out in the audience -- were big.
From the start of the show, great Pixies songs -- hits or not -- came fast and furious, as the band stood on stage in darkness, with bright lights behind them but nothing shining on their faces, silhouettes on the stage. They tore through "Head On," and "Tame" -- on which Paz Lenchantin laid to rest any concerns she couldn't match Kim Deal's backup vocals -- and "Subbaculta" and "Velouria." My ears were drawn to David Lovering on drums, seated above the band. He was full of energy, riving the band's garage-session power. I couldn't help but think of Ben Sisario's book on Doolittle, and the part where Sisario sits down with Lovering only to find that Lovering doesn't remember any of the names of any Pixies songs, and doesn't seem to really care. He had apparently put it all to the side and became a magician. And yet here he was, playing the loudest, with the most heart. And that's why Lovering is my favorite member of the Pixies.
The band sounded rehearsed but raw, and fully present. Two issues -- that Black Francis' vocals seemed too quiet, and that, try as they might, the band had a hard time filling up the cavernous Beacon Theatre with sound -- didn't detract too much from the force of the band. And anyway, they delivered it all -- the morbid '60s bop, the throat-shredding screams, the touch of insanity, the walls of guitar, the interplay of manic male and murmuring female, the occasional descents into blackness. As they continued to play -- searing "Mr. Grieves," bopping, happy "Here Comes Your Man," a "Where Is My Mind?" that can still raise goosebumps -- the lighting on stage shifted, so that by the middle of the set, you could make out their facial features, and by the end, they were standing there, in the light, looking, for the most part, like they were having a good time.
Watching the band there, in the light, looking comfortable and ripping through confident versions of their best songs, I thought of something Black Francis (or Frank Black, or Charles Thompson, or whatever is the most properly journalistic thing to call him) said in an interview a couple days ago. He'd just made clear that he didn't care at all about Spotify, or about using Twitter, or fitting in with current bands, or even what the f-- happened with Kim. But he did care about what he was doing on stage.
"We’re really about connecting with the audience, whoever the f-- they are," he said. "Whether they’re cool, whether they’re uncool, whether they’re young, whether they’re old, whether they’re hipsters, whether they’re not hipsters, whatever. We want to connect with the people that paid the money to go see the show. They’re the ones that have made the sacrifice."
That was clear as the band, after closing out and now fully in stage lights, stepped right up to the edge of the stage and wandered about a bit, bowing and waving, and Joey Santiago flipped his guitar around in his hands as it fed back, smiling and looking pleased that they'd put on a good show. It was as if the slowly lifting lights, and the faces of the band, and their smiles coming into focus, was their way of reminding us that they were being sincere, even though they didn't have to be.