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Last Night: Pixies, Fuck Buttons at Verizon Theatre

Pixies, Fuck Buttons
Verizon Theatre
September 19, 2010

Better than: listening to the stacks and stacks of albums from bands that claim the Pixies and Doolittle as an influence.

Frank Black... or Black Francis... or Charles Thompson IV... or whatever he's called these days. For more shots from last night, see Andrew Shepherd's slideshow here.
Frank Black... or Black Francis... or Charles Thompson IV... or whatever he's called these days. For more shots from last night, see Andrew Shepherd's slideshow here.
Andrew Shepherd

The first thing you noticed was the crowd.

And it was tough not to take note: The audience at the Verizon Theatre last night was a varied one, pulling in attendees from all ends of the music fan spectrum, from the young 'uns excitedly following their elders around at the hip to the elders without offspring excitedly jumping at the chance to wear their "Death to the Pixies" tees with glee once more.

Lest there was any doubt, let's clear it up right at the start: The Pixies, thanks to their having long being credited as a major influence over the alternative sound of the '90s through today, are as big now, if not bigger, than they ever were in their heyday.

It's a funny thing, too, what with the band's sound--one that brushes with pop genius and body slams earlier notions of alternative. At the time of Doolittle release's, it showcased the band as one with unparalleled breadth, albeit an underground one.

But time has been good to these songs--they've aged quite well, their once-harsh sheen now replaced with an iconic gloss. Make no mistake, though, there is still a certain danger at play here--lyrics about "slicing up eyeballs" tend to have that effect.

So, yes, there was a certain juxtaposition at play last night, seeing this pulls-from-all-corners crowd so very much enjoying a band like the Pixies. And there was indeed further juxtaposition at play when actual images of slicing up eyeballs, culled from Un chien Andalou, the French film that inspired Doolittle lead-off "Debaser," showed on the video screen behind the band at the start of its set. At this moment, the crowd audibly gasped--surprisingly, as if they'd never actually heard the lyrics to one of the band's most popular songs.

It was odd indeed. And it begged the question: Who is it that goes to see the Pixies these days, and who is it that the Pixies think they're playing for? They're fair questions to ask, for the above reasons and when given both the sterility of the venue in play and the high production value of the band's touring set-up for this show.

Though fun to ponder, the answers don't really matter.

Because, see, nostalgia and adulation trumps all.

 Dutifully performing, as promised, Doolittle in order after offering up four b-sides as a start, there were little surprises to be had at this Pixies performance. Everyone knew what was coming next--something drummer David Lovering poked visual fun at before launching into "Wave of Mutilation," hamming things up by counting out the track numbers on his fingers before kicking off the third song on the album on his kit. Even the b-sides were to be expected; anyone with Google access could click around and see which songs these would be, based off other set lists from the band's now almost two years of touring this record.

But in the face of this anticipation, or lack thereof, the band still managed to impress. Being back together for seven years now has been good to this quartet: frontman Frank Black's vocals earned high marks equally for its screeches and croons; guitarist Joey Santiago proffered his signature parts with a nuanced nonchalance; bassist Kim Deal similarly endeared herself to the crowd, helming the band's between-song banter and impressively showcasing why her vocal interplay with Black remains at the top of the male-female vocal pairing heap; and Lovering, meanwhile, was the court jester, visibly enjoying himself from his drum riser, and soaking it all in.

In fact, the whole band did as much: Between each and every song, the house lights came on, and the band basked in their crowd's enjoyment of this night. In return, they smiled and waved back at the crowd that cheered them so.

This adoration wasn't over-the-top, nor was it out of place. This was a top-notch performance from a seminal act--and this crowd, odd as it may have appeared to the eyes, could not have come off more reverential to the ears. The visuals in play helped (each Doolittle song featured a backing movie), as did the impeccable sound of the Verizon Theatre. But this was also a band at the top of its game.

The Pixies employed visuals perhaps to quell the expectations of the new fans who aren't used to seeing a band like the Pixies perform without such add-ons, but they weren't really necessarily. Because--and maybe seven years of acting just makes it seem real--the band truly appeared to be enjoying themselves, as well as one another, on this stage.

And they enjoyed the crowd, too, it would appear: After completing Doolittle and returning for an encore of two more b-sides--"Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)" and "Into The White"--the band returned for a second encore, this one featuring a whopping five cuts not from Doolittle: "Dig For Fire," "Allison," "Vamos," "Where Is My Mind?" and "Gigantic."

It was pretty freakin' awesome. And it more than surpassed any expectations.

Earlier in the evening, the odd choice of an opener, Fuck Buttons, impressed on a wholly different note. The two English electronics wizards offered up a set of futuristic, cold rave music. But this duo scored by taking great advantage of the Verizon's impressive sound set-up, using surround sound to elicits a few legitimate "Woah!" moments from the crowd.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
The Pixies are probably my favorite band, and I'd never seen them before in person. I've watched some live DVD performances post-reunion and worried that seeing them live might lead to disappointment; their offerings in these films seem rather forced and, well, a little boring. But time, as I noted above, has been good to the band. This was a great show, living up to and even surpassing any expectations I may have had. I legit had no less than three, completely giddy, "Wow, this is awesome," moments--all of which can be seen in the notebook brought along, and marked with excessive exclamation points. Also, the seats I had were pretty amazing. And I think Kim Deal waved to me at one point.

By The Way: I kind of dug the way the Verizon was set up last night, with a pit for some 400 set up in front of the stage. It added a whole lot of energy to the otherwise sterile performance space.

Random Note: The band was selling live albums of this very performance available immediately after the show at the merch booth for $25. Someone let me burn their copy?

Set List
1. Dancing the Manta Ray
2. Weird at My School
3. Bailey's Walk
4. Manta Ray
5. Debaser
6. Tame
7. Wave of Mutilation
8. I Bleed
9. Here Comes Your Man
10. Dead
11. Monkey Gone to Heaven
12. Mr. Grieves
13. Crackity Jones
14. La La Love You
15. No. 13 Baby
16. There Goes My Gun
17. Hey
18. Silver
19. Gouge Away
Encore
20. Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)
21. Into the White
Second Encore
22. Dig For Fire
23. Allison
24. Vamos
25. Where Is My Mind?
26. Gigantic


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