Last night I went with one of my oldest friends, Julian Kievit, to see The Pixies play at the legendary Paradiso venue in Amsterdam. Two time machines in one place: music and friendship.
Going to watch a band live for the first time is always a risky thing. You really have no idea what to expect. And when it is an act that you really respect and love, it is doubly so. Somehow, liking a band for me is intertwined with them being at least sorta good live. So, amid reports from all over that this tour of the Pixies is not great live, we headed across town on the tram to check out Frank Black and the crew.
Matters did not start well with the support band, Yuck. Wikipedia tells me they have two albums out and are a bit like Dinosaur Jr. I can tell you they were boring, the singer/lead guitarist needs to learn to turn his amp down on stage and the best song they did was a New Order cover. The front man was so loud that, even though there was another guitarist sawing away at his axe, I never heard a note of the rhythm guitar bits.
Not a good start to the night. Julian and I exchanged nervous looks, sharing the thought that, if these guys were considered good enough to open this gig, what were we in for? But, after a lengthy stage change over, the Pixies took to the stage with vigour.
Even in this very laid back Dutch crowd, the energy levels in the room instantly sparked under the onslaught of Joey Santiago and Frank’s guitars. The sheer passion with which the opening salvo was delivered sweeping away any fears of a bad live show.
They played for about 90-minutes and ran through most of the big hits (except Monkey Gone To Heaven) plenty of more obscure album tracks, their new stuff and well, I dunno, some B sides maybe? I must admit, I did not recognise all the songs they played!
This was also not a crisp, surgical and clear performance. The Pixies went back to loud, fast and cacophonic. The chaos and mystery of their songs made all the more vivid in this live environment. They were not note perfect it is true. Nor were they particularly energetic. They key lies in the intensity they bring to the performance. Frank shuts his eyes and lets rip. Joey plays with passion and fury. New bass player Kim Shattuck bopped and played and sang her heart out. And the drummer… well, he was a blur of energy the whole way trough. With no one member doing any major theatrics, the concentrated focus and energy gives off a vibe the crowd can rock along to.
The crowd itself was pretty sedate: Mainly 40-sometings, with some older, some a bit younger. Very appreciative, but not very energetic. Must be weird playing to that perhaps, when you are used to crazy responses. Either way, by the end, Frank Black did appear to be somewhat tired, or maybe bored. Especially when playing “Where is my Mind” he seemed to really lose interest. I suppose playing the same damn songs for 20 years will do that to you!
All in all an awesome show. Seeing the Pixies in a venue that takes less than 1 000 people, standing less than 20 feet away: it was amazing. Definitely one ticked off the bucket list of stuff I missed when I was a kid. And how amazing to be doing it in Amsterdam while travelling.