By Tegh Singh Matharu
Whenever you read about the alternative music boom in the late eighties and early nineties, there is always some mention of Throwing Muses, Morphine, and of course, Nirvana. However, towering above most of them is the band of renegade-pop rockers, the Pixies. Known for their apocalyptic lyrics about mutilation, religion, and every damned thing that would make the Vatican blush, the eccentric Bostonians laid the foundation for alternative rock as we know it today with their seminal albums, Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. Their subversion of pop conventions was a watershed for the alternative music scene and after almost thirty years, The Pixies still command a rabid and devoted following. Their albums grace the lists of music journals and blogs, from NME, Rolling Stone, to Pitchfork, with every critic championing their revolutionary influence. Embarking on a the North American leg of a worldwide tour in support of their album Head Carrier, the legendary rockers expanded their rich history in what was a sold-out show at the historic Chicago Theater.
Mitski opened the show with her brand of angst-pop that shifted between straight rock and emotional crooning. While her band began with a surprisingly powerful sound, buoyed by an energetic drummer, I could not help noticing how much of her material sounded no different from artists like Sharon Van Etten, Japanese Breakfast, Angel Olsen, and Anna Calvi. Some songs for instance, called to mind Japanese Breakfast’s set during the Slowdive show while other songs had me looking up any new Sharon Van Etten material. Regardless of the derivative sound, Mitski’s set was good and reached a high point towards the end when her voice reached a deafening, unexpected crescendo that had one of my friends go, “She just went full-on Bjork!” Furthermore, she did a fantastic job readying the audience for when the Pixies would take the stage.
When the Pixies emerged in a wash of bright blue light, everybody in the audience stood up and remained there for their entire set. Beginning with the song “Wave of Mutilation” off the masterpiece, Doolittle¸ the band launched into a set as epic as the Chicago Theater. The set covered the entire breadth of their output, from Surfer Rosa to their new album, Head Carrier. Of their 34-song set though, a good portion of the songs came from Doolittle and Head Carrier, with only five songs from Surfer Rosa. Regardless of my bias towards Surfer Rosa, the Pixies staged a fantastic show, with every song perfectly chosen and sequenced. Furthermore, the new material off of Head Carrier, songs such as “Bel Esprit” and “Um Chagga Lagga”, meshed well alongside iconic songs like “Debaser” and “Silver Snail”. For me though, the highlight of the night was when Black Francis sang “Monkey Gone to Heaven” since everybody in the theater began to sing along. When the song reached that moment when Francis sang, “If man is five, if man is five, if man is five / Then the devil is six, then the devil is six / The devil is six, the devil is six and if the devil is six / Then God is seven, then God is seven, the God is seven”, all the voices joined the count and cheered. When the song was over, I joked with my friend that I had seen and heard everything I needed to for this review. However, when the familiar march of “Where is My Mind” began, the enthusiasm I saw previously hit a new high. In addition to singing, everyone was dancing and when I looked up at the crowd on the top floor, it looked as if everyone was about to fall over the railing with excitement.
When the Pixies closed their set with “Bone Machine”, it was an end to an epic set. After thirty years of playing, the Pixies still had more gas in their tank than their contemporaries. Black Francis still possessed that same deranged, eccentric voice heard in the old Pixies albums while the bassist, Paz Lechantin capably filled the Kim Deal’s shoes. Furthermore, the entire band never slackened the pace of their set and burst forth into each song as if it was the last song before their encore. Their enthusiasm never waned and the timelessness of their music did not suffer from age. After yesterday’s staggering performance, the Pixies showed the crowd they are still worthy of their legendary reputation.
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Setlist for Pixies live in Chicago at Chicago Theatre October 8, 2017
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