This whole “Doing A Whole Album From 20 Years Ago Live” thing is a curious matter. When bands like Teenage Fanclub do “Bandwagonesque” and Tindersticks play “Second Album”, it’s really nice, because you’ve kind of forgotten about them, and it’s lovely to be reminded afresh about what great bands they are. But the Pixies did the whole reunion thing five years ago. And that was a fantastic, angry, furious, joyful reunion, the audience’s rapture at the sheer inconcievability of the whole event absorbed by the band and reciprocated hundredfold in superb performances.
So this feels odd, especially as we’re back to the Brixton Academy again, scene of their great triumph back in 2004. “Doolittle” is possibly rock’s finest hour, a pure distillation of strangeness and sex and lust and religion and monkeys and Spanish surrealism and Biblical fury and environmentalism, all wrapped up with screaming and yelling and dischords and songs with so many hooks you could hang a whole bunch of coats on. But there’s a touch of redundancy about the whole thing, especially when the night kicks off with a bunch of B-sides.
The Pixies were never a B-sides band. Some, like New Order, hid their best songs away on B-sides and obscure releases on tiny Belgian record labels staffed solely by beer-quaffing nuns. But The Pixies released two astonishing records, and frankly you just need “Surfer Rosa” and “Doolittle”, and find “Isla de Encanta”, “Caribou” and “Cecilia Ann/Rock Music” somewhere. That’s pretty much it. The B-sides are pretty much entirely redundant. Buy the new, limited edition extended “Doolittle” with the B-sides, say the adverts at the start. No thanks, say the crowd.
Then, Kim starts that bassline, the lights drop out, and “Debaser” precipitates a frenzy. Everyone goes mad. Then comes “Tame”, one of their fiercest and most deranged songs, and everyone goes mad again. So it goes.
Hearing “Doolittle” song by song, you are struck by how much variety their songs feature. Even when they try to be poppy, in a Velvet Underground meets Beach Boys of “Here Comes Your Man” (featuring a great video of the band nodding their heads in approval), it comes across as pretty weird. The weirder songs are weirder still. “Mr Grieves” is still so bloody odd. “Tame”, “I Bleed” and “Gouge Away” still have such bewildering power twenty years on that your are left feeling breathless (aside from the huge crush at the front).
At the end of “Gouge Away”, the band bow and jape and joke at the front, with the display behind showing a video of the band bowing, japing and joking, soaking up some of the loudest cheering I’ve ever heard at a gig. And the first encore, ending with “Into The White”, feels a bit tacked on. But the second encore starts with “Isla De Encanta” and then jumps straight into “Broken Face”, whereupon every single person in the place goes utterly mad, yet again. Frank “Black” Black “Francis” actually looks, for the first time, like he’s enjoying it up there. Then it’s “Where Is My Mind”, and the night is over.
You know, I never thought I would say this, but I’m starting to wonder if they should give touring a rest for a bit. I mean, it’s wonderful to see them but some of the joy seems to have seeped out of Black “Francis” Frank “Black”. Ok, he wasn’t exactly a particularly cheery soul to start off with, but there’s a definite feel of him going through the motions. You know, calling this the “We Never Made Any Fucking Money From Doolittle So Give Us Some Now Tour” might be more appropriate, and who can begrudge them getting some belated glory? Lord only knows they deserve it, what with totally reinventing rock music and all.
So, maybe they need a break. But then again, who cares? They are still one of the best live acts out there, and show up bands twenty years their junior with ability to just sound so damned good. Much better than the Ally Pally shows from a few years ago, but sadly not quite touching the heights of their reunion shows.
And they are still the best band in the world to see a fat, bald middle-aged man screaming at the top of his lungs. Frank, Joey, Kim and Dave, we salute you.