Pixies have always been a niche band, despite several major artists claiming them as influential to their music (Nirvana and Radiohead to name but two.) Having been a fan since an NME flexidisc in 1987, throughout the years I have been following Black Francis et al I have never come across anyone who claimed to be a fan; indeed the very idea that they have any musical talent whatsoever has been met with ridicule by all and sundry. And yet, here we are 26 years later at a sold out Manchester Apollo; 3500 other Pixies fans in attendance – suddenly my isolation is ended…I’m not the only follower….
The band are reaching the end of a sold out European tour and are due to head back to America for another 31 dates in the New Year. They seem to have survived the departure of bassist Kim Deal remarkably well, but then again the tension between Francis and Deal has been simmering since the band’s reunion back in 2003. This time the break may be permanent; Deal seems to have been unhappy over Francis’ desire to produce new material rather than touring the same old albums; a disagreement that resulted in the band splitting for the second time, in the unlikely setting of a coffee shop in Monmouth, following what lead singer and guitarist Black Francis describes as a ‘Last Supper’ meal the previous evening. Her departure seems to have had a cathartic effect rather than the opposite; the appointment of Kim Shattuck (ex Muffs) as her replacement following a period of wailing and gnashing of teeth from die hard Deal-ists has, if anything, made The Pixies more current and the 4 track ‘EP1’, their first new release for 9 years, sees a return to former glories.
Aussie support band The Jezabels were met with muted enthusiasm; very different band to The Pixies, more a rougher hybrid of Florence and The Machine and Kate Bush. Entertaining enough, but to be honest matched by bumping into Hayley from Corrie coming out of the toilets (female). They politely entertain, thank the main act for inviting them and we’re on to the main event. Francis, Santiago, Shattuck and Lovering enter the arena through dry ice and adoration to start what would be the first tune in a mammoth 38 song set; ‘In Heaven’ is a mystical, floaty number followed by ‘Andro Queen’ which treads a similar path.
The waiting throng know, however, that they are being lulled into a false sense of non-rock – the best is yet to come – and the band certainly deliver; a soaring, grinding, wailing setlist that covers both old and new; back to the start with ‘Hey’, ‘Caribou’ and ‘Vamos’, with new material interspersed throughout; ‘Blue Eyed Hexe’, ‘Indie Cindy’ and the raw ‘What Goes Boom’; another new song for which the band have recently released a video which depicts guitarist and all round good egg Joey Santiago walking through a Star Wars-esque desert before spontaneously combusting in a red misted bang.
Santiago knows how to play, both guitar and audience, as he teases the masses with a 5 minute solo during ‘Vamos’ which includes utilising his instrument as a machine gun, peppering the arena with electric guitar machine gun bursts and hypnotising white noise. 10.30, the curfew time, comes and goes, and yet the band continue; even the unsubtle hint of the house lights being turned on will not dissuade; a stage musical farewell, the band hand-holding and bowing, and they are gone before returning to encore with ‘Head On’, A Jesus and Mary chain cover, another cover in the form of The Fall’s ‘Big New Prinz’ before finally departing after a rabid version of ‘Planet of Sound’.
The Pixies are reborn; new material was well received and in a new era of self publishing where labels are less important and the artist/fan relationship is more direct, the importance of live performance and social media seems to suit the new evolution of the band; if the departure of Kim Deal could have brought Death to The Pixies, on this display there is a lot more to come and the rebirth is certainly complete.