Report: Pixies Do “Doolittle” in D.C.

 

“The
classic-album-in-sequence trend is a lamentable one”: Alt-rock godfathers perform
their classic album in sequence at DAR
Constitution Hall, Washington,
DC, Dec. 1.



By Chris Klimek

So, what can we learn from watching the no-longer-newly-reunited
Pixies march professionally through their major-label debut, Doolittle, 20 years later?

The album, with its surreal lyrics and volume-seesawing dynamics
and abrupt finishes, is aging just fine.  This we know because on Dec. 1,
at the second of two nights at DAR Constitution Hall, the band – after a
subdued opening of four Doolittle-era
B-sides that sounded like the sketches they were – conjured it up faithfully,
with plenty of muscle but sans interpretation or elaboration.  It was as
it was.

Also, frontman Black Francis (a.k.a. Frank Black, nee Charles Thompson) remains the owner
of a nonverbal war cry to rival any in the arty-indie genre his band did so
much to shape during its first go-round, circa 1986-1993 – you know, back when
they made new music together.  He’s been more forthcoming than most
nostalgia merchants about the purely fiscal motive for the Pixies 2004 reunion
and for this latest outing, ostensibly celebrating 20th anniversary of their
quintessential disc.  Back in ’04, he even claimed that a new album was in
the works, but none has materialized in the half-decade since.  Where’s
the money in new tunes?  You’re better off selling a $25 official bootleg
of each Doolittle redux tour
performance on a “collectible” USB drive bracelet.  (The encore set of
Tuesday’s show replaced “Caribou” and “Nimrod’s Son” from
the prior night with “Vamos” and “Broken Face,” so maybe
each show on the tour isn’t entirely identical — just 92 percent.)

It’s perfectly honorable for the Francis and company to pay some
tuition bills this way, of course, especially given the quality of the
product.  On stage Tuesday night, his old band sounded committed and even
feral at times, biting into Doolittle‘s
deeper cuts (“There Goes My Gun,” “Silver”) with as much
firepower as they brought to “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and the
epileptic “Into the White” that closed the first encore set, after Doolittle had done finished.  The
2007 Police tour happened sans the usual, nominal raison of new music, too, but in that case the band couldn’t have
sounded more bored, or boring.

Doolittle‘s
unimpeachable standing aside, the classic-album-in-sequence trend is a
lamentable one, wherein the artist abdicates an opportunity to recontextualize
the songs for us.  (Bruce Springsteen is the shining, eternal exception,
if only because he’s been playing Born to
Run
with an additional 18 or 22-song grab-bag on top of that.)  You
can still see why it’s caught on:  In a sluggish concert market, it lets a
performer satiate fans’ thirst for hits and deep cuts alike, and without having
to think about it too much.  It also addresses the near-impossibility of
surprising a live audience in the 21st century.  Most acts play the same
setlist every night, and if the song selection and sequence can’t be delivered
fresh to any audience with an Internet connection, well, here’s a sequence the
audience already knows they love.

 

As at other dates this tour, The Pixies left what little talking
there was to loveable bassist/singer/Breeder Kim Deal, whose incandescent smile
– perceptible from the nosebleeds – said more than her superfluous
banter.  “We’re gonna do B-sides,” she said at the top of the show, as if
apologizing that we’d have to wait another 10 minutes for them to rip into
“Debaser.”  (Totally worth it.)  “This is the last
song on Side One,” she announced later.   “These songs aren’t on the
record,” she explained before the final sprint, comprising bloody readings of
“Broken Face,” “Vamos” and “Where Is My Mind” and “Gigantic,” all performed
with house lights up, possibly thanks to the intruder who’d managed to shimmy
his way across the stage during “Into the White” before leaping back into the
crowd.

 

If Deal’s vapid chitchat at least come off as friendly,
Francis’s attitude toward the whole enterprise seemed captured in the film that
accompanied their biggest hit, “Here Comes Your Man,” featuring four continuous
close-ups of each band member listening, presumably, to the recording of the
song.  Deal played air bass and cracked up at regular intervals.  But
Francis wore an irritable expression, rolling his eyes, bobbing his head, and
clapping out of time to the virulent melody he pretends to be mad that he
wrote.  The truth hurts, but the tune kills.

 

***

 

 

Veteran Danish (would-be) stadium-rockists
Mew opened the show with dizzying 45-minute space odyssey through their
best-loved tunes, drawing heavily from 2006’s “And the Glass-Handed Kites” and dipping a toe into this year’s
No More Stories.” 
Swirling, widescreen daydreamers like “The Zookeepers Boy” found
their natural habitat in the (kinda) cavernous hall.  If anything, the
venue might have been too small for a group that dreams, and sounds, this big.

Photographer – http://www.photokyle.com
Writer –  http://www.informationleafblower.com
Twitterer – @kgustafson

 

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