By John Curley
Pixies, the college-rock and critical darlings of the late 1980s and early 1990s, have enjoyed quite a resurgence in recent years. The band’s lineup has stabilized with the addition in 2014 of Paz Lenchantin on bass and vocals. Lenchantin’s presence seems to have revitalized the band, as they are playing with the same fire these days that they did during their heyday. Last September, Pixies released their sixth album and the first upon which Lenchantin appears, “Head Carrier.” The album sees founding members Black Francis (vocals, guitar), Joey Santiago (guitar), and David Lovering (drums) playing with renewed vigor. That intensity has carried over into their roadwork, as the band has been performing blistering shows on tour to promote “Head Carrier.” The tour brought them to New York City for a show at Webster Hall on Wednesday, May 24th.
The Webster Hall show began with a 30-minute set by the Philadelphia-based quartet Cymbals Eat Guitars. They were quite good, and received an enthusiastic response from the crowd at the sold-out venue. The band, which is comprised of Joe D’Agostino (vocals, guitar), Matthew Whipple (bass), Andrew Dole (drums), and Brian Hamilton (keyboards), played guitar-based rock that sounded at times like Big Country and like The Cure at others. The influence of The Cure is apparent in the songwriting on their “Pretty Years” album, which was released last September. The last song of their set was extended and concluded with a feedback-drenched roar as the band members exited the stage one by one.
Following a break of about 45 minutes, The Beatles’ “You Know My Name (Look Up The Number),” Pixies’ intro music, was played as the excited crowd let loose loud cheers. And Pixies didn’t disappoint, kicking into high gear straight away with an intense version of “Gouge Away” that began with Lenchantin’s throbbing bass and Lovering’s pounding drums and exploded when Francis and Santiago joined the fray. It was a phenomenal start to the show.
From there, Pixies never let up on the accelerator, slamming right into the guitar-heavy and rocking “Um Chagga Lagga” that featured Lenchantin and Francis trading off on the lead vocal. They upped the ante with a take on their classic “Wave Of Mutilation” that had the crowd singing along at such volume that they threatened to drown out the band. An incredibly intense cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On” highlighted by Santiago’s deft guitar work and Lovering’s crisp drumming drove the crowd even further into a frenzy. The incredible performance of “U-Mass” had the band firing on all cylinders with Francis howling on vocals.
The pace of the show never slowed during Pixies' 35-song (!) main set, as they barely paused for breath before tearing full-on into the next song. The rapid-fire “Talent” featured Lenchantin and Francis on vocals. The crowd favorite “Monkey Gone To Heaven,” anchored by Lenchantin’s pounding bass, was given a scintillating performance and received a huge reaction from the crowd.
I was standing close to the stage on Santiago’s side, so it was a treat to get such a good view of his performance. He is one of the most criminally underrated guitarists around, but Pixies fans are fully aware of value and his immense contributions to the band. His guitar work during the performance of “Caribou” was fantastic.
Lenchantin’s presence in the band is one of the things that make the “Head Carrier” album such an enjoyable listen. The performances of the new tracks “Tenement Song” and “All The Saints” both featured Lenchanton and Francis sharing the lead vocals.
The pacing of the show worked very well, with the new material sprinkled in here and there among the better-known crowd favorites. “Here Comes Your Man,” a highlight of the show, following the performance of two new songs was a perfect example of this.
“Nimrod’s Son” received a huge cheer from the crowd, and the audience sang along with loud glee to the “You are the son of a motherf---er!” line. That was immediately followed by a great take on “Blown Away” that was highlighted by Santiago’s sensational guitar work. The fun and bouncy “La La Love You” had Lovering and Lenchantin on vocals as well as a nice guitar lead by Santiago. “Where Is My Mind?” featured Lenchantin’s soothing backing vocals and Santiago’s stinging guitar work. And the crowd really enjoyed the heavy-duty performances of “Something Against You,” “Crackity Jones,” and “Head Carrier.”
Intense performances of “Subbacultcha,” “No. 13 Baby,” Dead,” and “Velouria” led to “Vamos,” Santiago’s moment in the spotlight which was highlighted by his guitar histrionics. A frenetic and absolutely incredible performance of “Tame” that had the crowd roaring was immediately followed by the wonderfully mellow “Hey” that had the crowd singing along. “All I Think About Now,” a tribute to Kim Deal from the “Head Carrier” album featured a great lead vocal by Lenchantin. The main set closed with a barn-burning version of “Debaser” that had the band tearing it up as the crowd went crazy. The band left the stage briefly as a dry-ice fog enveloped the stage and the audience.
Returning to the stage after less than a minute, Pixies’ one-song encore consisted of an intense version of “Into The White” featuring Lenchantin on vocals that built up to an explosive crescendo. It was a fitting end to what had been an excellent show. Pixies had crammed 36 songs into their one hour and 45 minute performance.
Pixies’ current North American tour concludes with a pair of shows at the new Brooklyn Steel venue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the second of which is on Friday, May 26th. Their European tour starts on Wednesday, July 5th with a headline show in Cambridge, England. They will play headline shows and festival dates in Europe through their Friday, August 11th festival appearance in Oslo, Norway. The second leg of their North American tour begins on Friday, September 8th with a festival appearance in Dana Point, CA. Those North American shows will also include both headline concerts and festival gigs and will conclude on Saturday, October 21st in Las Vegas. Pixies will round out the year with West Coast shows starting on Thursday, November 30th in Portland, OR and finishing up on Sunday, December 10th in San Jose, CA. Pixies have asked promoters to put as many tickets on presale as possible to ensure that tickets end up in the hands of real fans and not with scalpers to sell at inflated prices. Full tour dates with links to purchase tickets can be found at http://www.pixiesmusic.com/shows/.
Pixies’ setlist at Webster Hall on Wednesday, May 24th was as follows:
Um Chagga Lagga
Wave Of Mutilation
Head On (cover of song by The Jesus and Mary Chain)
Monkey Gone To Heaven
All The Saints
Here Comes Your Man
Brick Is Red
La La Love You
Where Is My Mind
Something Against You
Isla de Enchanta
No. 13 Baby
I’ve Been Tired
All I Think About Now
Into The White