Music

Live Review: Pixies @ Barrowlands

pixies-barrowlands

Photo by Josh Mainka

This was a night of particular poignancy for me, and for two big reasons. When I discovered the Pixies in secondary school, I became totally obsessed with them in a way I hadn’t been since I first stumbled upon The Beatles. I first heard them where a lot of you probably did, over the end credits of Fight Club, but it wasn’t until a good friend formally introduced me that I realised who I was actually listening to.

I bought their greatest hits compilation, ‘Wave of Mutilation’, and played that on repeat for the next month – I probably listened to ‘Debaser’ over 100 times in a week. I went through their limited discography, unable to find a single song that I didn’t love.

Their music helped define that period in my life; my obsession was a running joke amongst my friends, and during that innocent period where everybody’s musical tastes were still blossoming, listening to one of the most influential and well regarded alt-rock bands of all time somehow made me a hipster.

At the time, I had never listened to a band so violent yet tender sounding, and they sent me on a journey of musical discovery that has ultimately come to shape me as a person.

The second reason is less profound. Despite being the most famous venue in Scotland, I had only previously been to ‘The Barras’ once to see Interpol on Valentine’s Day. By myself.

Listening to a band as melancholy as Interpol only served to make me acutely aware of how I appeared to be the only person in the entire room (with the exception of the photographer) who were by themselves. So, the Barrowlands did not hold fond memories for me.

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The ‘Barras’ (Photo taken from Glasgowist.com)

Despite what I’ve just said, my anticipation was far from peaking prior to the show. I haven’t listened to the Pixies intently in years; I’ve been lukewarm on their comeback phase, and I honestly expected a fairly subpar show.

I have undoubtedly become a lot more cynical since starting university, and my outlook on life was hardly shiny before.

And yes, of course, by the time their set list was finished, I was breathless; clothes pasted to my skin with sweat, barely able to stand and too stunned to verbally emote to the people that (thankfully this time) kept me company.

As soon as the lights went down, a sense of childlike glee washed over me completely. I was 16 again, and nothing outside the venue mattered anymore. I didn’t think it would even be possible to review it.

How could I be objective when I had spent two hours jumping around to every song, lyrics that I hadn’t heard in years coming out my mouth like I had been born knowing them, undoubtedly jumping on my friend’s feet several times, and all the while making a semi-conscious effort not to fall and get trampled by the crowd? Well bear with me, because I’m going to try.

With the exception of former bassist Kim Deal, none of the Pixies have been forces of personality. That’s always been part of the appeal for me; that they made loud, surreal songs about biblical rape, incest and UFO’s, but looked like they could have been IT technicians.

Of course I expected them to say something between songs, anything at all, but after several awkward instrument changes, and moments were it looked like they may have been discussing the set list on the fly, it became apparent that the most we could hope for was a “Thank you, Glasgow” at the end of the set. This never came either; instead they locked arms and bowed, like at the end of a play.

Stage banter isn’t something I demand. It can certainly add to a performance, although with most American bands it inevitably comes back to their great grandfather’s Scottish heritage, which I for one am sick of hearing about.

It is strange to watch a band and have them say literally nothing to the crowd – even Interpol managed a few sentences between songs – but it sort of plays in the Pixie’s favour. They’re legends, with nothing to prove, and by dispensing with this they find the time to play 35 songs in a monster two-hour set list.

Kicking off with ‘Bossanova’ opener ‘Cecilia Ann’, the band goes on to deliver just about every song you could hope for. All the major beats are covered: ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, ‘Where is My Mind’ and ‘Here Comes Your Man’. They are all spaced-out well so as not to blow their load too early, and fan favourites like ‘Hey’, ‘Gouge Away’ and ‘Debaser’ are cleverly left teasingly close to the end.

So many lesser known but absolutely crucial deep cuts are played as well. I distinctly remember talking to my friend about how some our personal favourite tracks – ‘I’ve Been Tired” and ‘Mr Grieves” – where unlikely to be played. But of course, they were, along with other seminal Pixies songs like ‘Isla de Ecanta’, ‘Something Against You’, and ‘Cactus’, all of which were met with an appropriately primal response from the crowd.

Nearly the entirety of ‘Head Carrier’ is played, with the blissful exceptions of its weakest two tracks, ‘Tenement Song’ and ‘Um Chagga Lagga’. Seeing these new tracks played out live next to classics has left me slightly embarrassed about my earlier review of that album.

Looking at it, there are several commonalities between their second career phase and ‘Bossanova’, and the fact that I could sing along to most of these songs tells me that I was too harsh.

The only glaring exemption was ‘Gigantic’, although given how intrinsically Kim Deal is tied to that song, I can understand them leaving it out. Also, as a massive ‘Trompe Le Monde’ apologist, I would have been pleased to hear all of that, although short of playing their entire discography from start to finish, this set list could not have been more perfect.

They play with gusto as well. There’s clearly still an animal inside Frank Black, and his iconic howl is still chilling in how genuinely unhinged it sounds. Music is clearly the Pixies comfort zone, with notoriously quiet (even by the Pixies standards) Joey Santiago playing off the crowd during his prolonged solo in ‘Vamos’, exploring as many ways of creating pure noise with a guitar as he can.

This makes for one of the night’s highlights when he takes his lead out and rubs it off his head, creating an atonal screech that for any other band would just be tasteless noise. Worries that age has stifled the band clearly don’t extend to their live performances – in fact, they are dispelled by them.

Just as everything appears to be coming to a close, a cloud of smoke is pumped through the floor, and the band returns for ‘Into the White’, barely visible during the entire performance, leaving the stage as discreetly as you’d expect for one that didn’t speak for two hours.

They managed to bottle exactly what made their records so incredible, and I am now trying to do the same for what makes a gig so magical. So it is with a renewed interest in their second career phase, that I desperately urge anybody with an interest in the band to see them any opportunity they get. The Pixies are not dead. Long live the Pixies.

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