The Pixies kicked off their sold-out, three-night run through Boston with a vintage set at the House of Blues on May 19th that proved beyond a doubt that with respect to founding bassist Kim Deal, Paz Lenchantin fits into this quartet better than POTUS in a Russian bath house.
Throughout the course of their nearly two-hour set, not a single band member uttered a word to the audience. There was no banter, no expressions of gratitude for coming out, and unlike plenty of other live acts this week, there wasn’t any kind of tribute to Chris Cornell. However, by keeping the trains running on time, they were able to perform over thirty different songs from throughout their catalogue, including more than half the songs on 2016’s Head Carrier that showcased the contradictory sense of grit and pop that stands as the proto-grunge act’s calling card.
The new tunes can seem less edgy at times, which makes sense considering the material was written decades after the recording of 1988’s Surfer Rosa. That said, the brutal, lacerated howl of Black Francis has not only withstood the ravages of age, but sounds more physiologically capable of abuse than ever. Sure, he’s lost his hair and put on weight but his ability to growl through classic ragers like “Monkey’s Gone To Heaven,” and “River Euphrates,” defies what we know about human biology.
Guitarist Joey Santiago keeps a low profile when it comes to showmanship but his playing says it all. He’s never been a guitarist who will wow you by running his fingers up and down the neck of his Les Paul, shredding at supersonic speeds. Santiago’s genius lies more in his tone than technique. On songs like “Vamos,” Santiago wailed out a panicked lick that sounds like a sped up fire alarm. In a recent interview with Glide, Santiago said there’s an intentional imperfection that’s a key to his tone, likening it to the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, intentionally putting a mistake in a painting. He then jokingly added that the irony is in finding the perfect space to make a mistake. During “Gouge Away,” the intro of the song is mostly just drums and bass and Santiago’s Wabi-Sabi chimes in by introducing the guitar through a single note, bent awkwardly and sustained until it dissipates into feedback.
Drunk bros were calling out to hear “UMass” all night so it wasn’t a surprise that the tune was a huge hit. The group was founded at University of Massachusetts Amherst, aka UMass, and the Bay State has always taken pride in calling The Pixies one of our own. The band itself has never been particularly enthusiastic about their Boston-area beginnings and haven’t represented the city the way acts like Aerosmith or the Dropkick Murphys have. Regardless, the song will always go over huge for a hometown crowd.
Between two sold-out sets at House of Blues and another at the Paradise Rock Club, the Pixies will be performing for over 6,000 people this weekend and could have made their lives easier playing a venue like Boston University’s Agganis Arena (capacity 7,200), but by multiplying their work load three-fold, they gave their Boston area fans intimate performances in the kind of clubs this music was made to be heard in. The Pixies might not be the most sentimental act on the road today, but when it comes to delivering a top-notch fan-friendly concert experience, they went well out of their way to deliver in full.