Trains pass by the Chevy Amphitheatre near Station Square in Pittsburgh every half hour or so, and the noise drowns out the music for a minute. Performers generally have to wait between songs for a train to pass.
Last Thursday night, I didn’t notice a single one. I doubt the train schedule was any different for that one night, but the Pixies were on stage and they rocked that place hard. It wasn’t quite the same as seeing the Pixies at the Rat in Kenmore Square in 1988, but it was damn close.
I had expected to have a good time, but not a great time. I saw the band last fall on an earlier leg of this reunion tour, at a show at the University of Akron. That set was fine — the band pulled out the hits and played all my favorite songs from Surfer Rosa and Come On Pilgrim, and the crowd bounced and sang and clapped and screamed itself hoarse — but overall it didn’t equal performances I’d seen back in Boston.
I figured it was the result of time and tide. The band was older, had lost some of their young energy and angst. And hell, they were playing in Akron to a bunch of kids who hadn’t been born when the songs were first written, and a bunch of middle-aged fogies (like me) who could only just remember how it felt to hear those same songs for the first time. It was in a university gym so there was no drinking and no smoking, just sports banners and a bunch of nice seats and a floor full of people standing and waiting to be impressed. And they played and we liked it and we all went home.
Understand that I didn’t see the Pixies perform live so very many times in the 80s — I caught maybe a half dozen or so shows. I would have seen more if I could have, but by the time I caught onto them they’d already start to hit it big, at least in the indie/college circuit, so they didn’t play that many Boston shows anymore. My memories of seeing them blend into those of seeing other bands in the same clubs. But I do remember a few moments clearly: Kim Deal smiling, always smiling, looking vaguely high and unbearably sexy, singing “Gigantic.” And Black Francis (as he was called then) screaming and flailing and making faces and joking with the band, or scowling at them and the audience. Me and everyone else in the crowd singing along with “Caribou” and “I’ve Been Tired.” Who hasn’t been tired? Who doesn’t want to be a singer like Lou Reed?
I loved those songs, still love them, loved that band and what I stood for to me. So, my Akron experience notwithstanding, when tickets went on sale for a Pittsburgh show, I jumped online and bought mine the first hour they were on sale.
We got to the show early enough to see the opening band — and if you’re going to see the Pixies you should plan to catch the opening band. In Akron they had a bunch of apparent heroin addict kids, skinny things in stretch jeans like I haven’t seen since 1988, and those boys played guitars faster than I’ve ever seen any one do, totally rocking. In Pittsburgh the openers were a hard-rocking foursome with a female singer who had the style of a gospel preacher and such a voice … they were like Soundgarden fronted by Aretha Franklin. I don’t know who’s on for all the shows in the tour, but indicators point to great performances all around.
And then the Pixies came on stage, and the Pittsburgh crowd went apeshit. Everyone knew the words to everything, old and young people were bouncing and singing. The band was fantastic, Frank Black screamed and sang and even smiled once. Joey Santiago made unearthly sounds emerge from his guitars. Kim Deal looked cute and sang sweetly — she sang lead on something that Black usually sings, “Gouge Away” I think — and David Lovering even sang lead on “La La Love You.”
When they played the first notes of “Nimrod’s Son” I went temporarily insane and started jumping although it was too crowded to do more than bob — I had to grab my brother Jude’s shoulder to steady myself before I went crashing into the people in front of me. By the end of the night I was hoarse, my ears rang, I was dripping sweat. The band played an encore, which I don’t think they often do.
My point, which I’m basically failing to make and will just tell you, is that it was a fantastic show, the kind that could remind me why I always loved seeing them live.
Why was this show better than the Akron one? Not sure. The band had more energy, seemed to get along better, seemed to have more to give. They played the songs with the same skill but more heart. Why this would be true late in the tour and not earlier I can’t explain.
In any case, they’ve got it together and they’re fantastic. I encourage you to check your local listings, find out when they’ll be out your way, and go.
Incidentally, Frank Black is apparently a little easier interview than he used to be. The reporter from the Pgh Post Gazette got a few interesting bits from him. And he recorded Black using the word “ilk” in a sentence. Not enough people go on record with “ilk” these days, so it’s nice to see too.