Live Review: Pixies at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, 11/24
If one thing was clear at the Pixies’ November 24 show—the second night of a three-day residency at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom—it was that they felt their music mattered more than their legend. Although the band, whom Kurt Cobain canonized, by saying that he outright plagiarized them on “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” was playing its classic 1989 album Doolittle in its entirety (as well as its attendant B-sides) the group rarely spoke to the audience. Frontman Black Francis, in fact, didn’t say a word; it was bassist Kim Deal (also of Breeders fame), who would have short comments between songs like, “Some B-sides so obscure we had to learn them,” to introduce “Bailey’s Walk,” originally on the “Here Comes Your Man” single. For the first four songs, in fact, the band played almost entirely in the dark, showing lurid scenes from silent movies behind them.
Luckily, Pixies’ music speaks for itself. Guitarist Joey Santiago’s thoughtful solos and embellishment wrap around Francis’ strumming and vocals perfectly, and Deal and drummer David Lovering’s rhythm section kept a tight groove going throughout the night. Playing a Les Paul Goldtop throughout most of the set (he broke out a Gibson ES-345 for “La La Love You,” one of the night’s big guitar showcases), Santiago comes across as one of the most resourceful and understated axmen in indie rock. Throughout the night he subtly used a wah-wah and other pedals to accent his solos, as on “Debaser,” and melodic lines, like on “Gouge Away.” During “Tame,” he’d pull this guitar close to him for the distorted parts while Francis screamed. Throughout the evening, the frontman wielded a blonde Fender Telecaster (both guitarists played through Marshall JCM-800s), further showcasing the band’s humility by tuning it himself between songs.
By getting out of the way of their music, though, and playing Doolittle from front to back, Pixies’ greatest feat was letting some of their “deep cuts,” as Deal called them, to breathe within the band’s catalog. Of course, “Here Comes Your Man,” “Debaser,” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven”—the band’s usual encore material—received massive cheers and applause from the sold-out audience, but the band finished those songs early. That left room for the under-two-minute “There Goes My Gun” and their Ennio Morricone-like Western ditty “Silver,” which showcases some of Santiago’s bluesiest playing, to get equal time. Impressively, the crowd was receptive. The Deal-sung “Into the White,” another B-side off the “Here Comes Your Man” single and a fan favorite, held a prominent spot in the band’s first encore. During the song, Francis and Santiago even faced each other, as if dueling.
To satiate less die-hard fans, the band played some non-Doolittle songs in their two encores, including Trompe le Monde’s “Planet of Sound” and Come On Pilgrim’s “Caribou,” making for a well-rounded night. As the band took its bows, the screen behind them showed the band in the same formation. There was one difference, though: The big-screen Francis looked down his nose at the real-life Francis, who was soaking in the applause.