06/03/2020

Last night at Auckland’s Spark arena Alt rock group The Pixies walked a fine line between immediacy and nostalgia.

If you had only looked at the audience you would have been forgiven for thinking that this was merely an opportunity for the teens of the nineties to relive past glories.  The Pixies, however, are not a band to be taken purely at face value.

There was no denying that each member is still firing on all cylinders. David Lovering (drums) and Joey Santiago (guitar) each fulfilled their roles is if the band’s heyday was still their bread and butter. More recent addition Paz Lenchantin (bass)sounds full and solid and her vocals, while a fraction slimmer and more polite Kim Deal’s unmistakeable strength, hardly left the audience wanting.

Frank Black, in particular, was in remarkably good voice.  His aggression and abandon remained fully intact and the songs were delivered with a looseness and variation that challenged any concerns that the band was merely phoning it in.

But here’s where the going got tough. Much has been written of the loud quiet formula of the Black’s songs being influential to the far more commercially successful wave of grunge and alt rock that followed.  But it’s the loose yet tight, controlled chaos that was problematic tonight. The Pixies music did not lend itself to a walk down memory lane.

The show was preceded by visuals and commentary from the Pixies long serving graphic designer, the late Vaughan Oliver, and the images dominated the stage for the first 2/3rds of the gig.  The band’s performance was limited to silhouettes against the gritty and at times, stunning, visuals.

This was indicative of the struggles that a band of this era encounters on their glory lap.  How do you find that mystical moment when the feedback and squall translates into urgency, intensity and a connection to the audience?

The end of Oliver’s visuals revealed the musicians and the performance lifted markedly at that point. The band became the focus and the music was reinforced perceptibly.

Hardly a greatest hits set list, notable exceptions included ‘Here comes your man’ and ‘Monkey gone to heaven’. The latter stages of the show even saw repeated and extended rendition of ‘Vamos’ because “the label asked and we said, yeah”.

This was first moment Black saw fit to address the audience and ironically rewarded them with one of the most overtly entertaining moments of the night. Santiago’s guitar solo was full of toggle switch and unplugged lead tapping gymnastics that would raise a smile from any budding player and a sigh from their frustrated tutor.

A brief pause for a bow before the band hurled themselves into the encore without leaving the stage. Here is where Pixies served it up to the audience but also found the spark much of the night had been missing. ‘Debaser’, ‘Wave of Mutilation’, ‘Hey’ and ‘Gouge away’ changed the outcome of the night but also spoke to the paradox of the band’s current state.

Is nostalgia the missing element that raises the Pixie’s abrasive pop back toward the impact and energy of their former intangible glory?