live review

Pixies, Vector Arena, Auckland

Pixies, Vector Arena, Auckland

March 12 2010
The Vector Arena, Auckland

Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam
29th March 2010

Pixies - Doolittle Live Tour
Friday 12th March
Vector Arena, Auckland

The Pixies are so influential there’s probably a special spot in music heaven for them. It’s almost impossible to imagine the musical careers of bands such as Nirvana, Radiohead or Weezer without them, and even David Bowie covered them. Commercially ignored in their relatively brief and volatile career (England excepted), the band reformed and have finally reaped the rewards their music has deserved by touring continuously. Yet for New Zealand fans, it’s been a long wait – despite the Pixies being hugely popular here, as we’ve been bypassed in previous tours. The Vector Arena (and the night before at the Powerstation) sold out almost immediately when their visit was finally announced, with thousands making the trip up north to Auckland, and scalpers and desperate fans going to extreme lengths to exchange second-hand money. And was it worth the wait? You betcha.

Though it wasn’t until the second encore when the gig raised itself from a solid one to a spectacular one. The band came on with projections of Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dali’s surreal film Un Chien Andalou in the background (the film was the direct inspiration for Doolittle’s opening track ‘Debaser’), and the band proceeded to link their music to the film’s images: unpredictable, profane, schizophrenic. It’s a bizarre proposition listening to a live set knowing every single song and its order (a practice which seems to be gaining popularity – many with influential albums such as Public Enemy, Sonic Youth and Built to Spill have toured like so in recent years). The Pixies ran through their landmark 1989 album Doolittle from start to finish – from Kim Deal’s bass guitar announcement in ‘Debaser’ to Black Francis’ incredible bellow in ‘Tame’ to the surf rock of ‘Here Comes Your Man’ or ‘Crackity Jones’, to the loud/soft malevolence of ‘Gouge Away’. Bookended by the album’s b-sides (‘Dancing the Manta Ray’ to the reworking of ‘Wave of Mutilation’), the gig did at first have a sell-the-commemorative-CD vibe to it at points, a perfunctory running through of the singles in fastidious order. It wasn’t helped by the band’s stage practices (which haven’t changed reportedly from their early days) – Francis and guitarist Joey Santiago’s impassiveness, Kim Deal’s earthy excitement, and the awkward banter. (To be fair, the band also used to perform sets alphabetically, so being tied down to an album’s chronology wouldn’t be too outrageous). But the music itself is too exciting for it ever to work half-heartedly, and Doolittle’s songs too good for the concert not to be enjoyable. And there was an added bonus of the Vector Arena sounding rather grand for the occasion.

But then the second encore came along. And blew the audience away. There was a considerable gap after the first encore, and the Arena was plunged into light along with boos from the crowd who thought the gig was over. The Pixies weren’t even started. Perhaps seeing 12,000 New Zealanders go crazy was enough for the band to suddenly play an extended encore, and the band ran through some choice cuts from their debut full-length Surfer Rosa and the preceding Come on Pilgrim EP (plus ‘U-Mass’ from their last album Trompe le Monde). The band’s two underrated figures, guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer Dave Lovering cut loose. Santiago in particular showed that he is simultaneously one of the greatest and most underrated guitarists around, as he showcased his totally unique approach to the instrument (which in my mind makes him a far greater guitarist than some of the more feted players like Clapton or Page). Songs like ‘The Holiday Song’ and ‘Nimrod’s Son’ seemingly came out of nowhere, as the encore threatened to demolish the delirious crowd. And by the time ‘Gigantic’ closed the epic show, the decades of waiting coalesced into one gigantic, cathartic singalong.

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