In a city as 90s obsessed as Portland, it comes as little surprise that the Pixies sold out three nights at one of the larger venues in town. Touring in support of their 2016 album Head Carrier, the band played the last of three shows at the Roseland Theater on Friday, December 1st.
Anyone who got to the venue late was disappointed to learn that the Pixies opened with what is unquestionably their best known song, “Where Is My Mind?”. The angsty, anthemic rock signaled to the fans that the band would not skimp on their classic catalogue. It also established the harmonizing vocal strength of Paz Lenchantin, who stepped in on bass in 2014. Without losing any momentum, they dove into the straightforward rock of “Wave of Mutilation” and the slower power pop of “All the Saints”. Instead of bashing around the stage, the band relied on their musical talents to provide the entertainment. Guitarist Joey Santiago exhibited his powerful minimalist style of playing, slicing through the other sounds with beautifully jagged riffs on darker songs like “Ed Is Dead”, “Vamos”, and “Gouge Away”. Singer Black Francis aka Frank Black plugged away on his acoustic guitar, proving he still has the vocal power to shift between the band’s punkier, faster songs and softer, slower numbers. Drummer David Lovering never relented, keeping a heavy beat that propelled the music into orchestrated rock and roll chaos. Newer songs like the poppy rocker “Classic Rocker” and rockabilly-tinged “Um Chagga Lagga” fit in well in the set contrasted with older staples like “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Hey”. Perhaps the biggest crowd response came at the tail end of a tight 90-minute set when the band encored with the catchy, shout-a-long Doolittle favorite “Debaser”, which still hit hard as one of their most raucous and energetic tunes.
For longtime fans who remember the glory days of the Pixies, their set was satisfying in the way it delivered a nice spectrum of favorites, deeper cuts, and just enough new material to remind us that they still have creative juice left. Though the band experienced their heyday in the late 80s and early 90s, and in some ways the Pixies of today are a different beast than the band of that era, their sound in Portland wasn’t aged. It was clear from the cheerful reaction of the audience that the band’s pre break-up material still resonates the strongest, and they seemed more than happy to embrace that fact all these years later.