Saturday, 25 January 2014

The Pixies at Metropolis | Review


The Pixies  |  Metropolis


I am not sure whether to be worried or excited when I step in Metropolis on that fairly warm January night. The Pixies. Wow. When I missed them last year, when they played Dolittle from beginning to end on back-to-back nights, I thought that was it. I was never going to see the Pixies live. But no, the iconic late 80s, early 90s band has returned for real. I mean it: only bassist Kim Deal is missing from the original roster, and the band just released EP-2, its second outburst of new material since its members reunited in 2004 (EP-1 was realeased just last year, so they're really on a roll).

I am personally very pleased with these two fresh releases, I must say. Same spirit as always, but with a more composed, more complex sound. Fuzzy guitar solos and nicely written lyrics also have their place, the band’s grungy vibe is still definitely there on some pieces (What Goes Boom, for instance): it’s a highly satisfying comeback.

Therefore, I should really not be worried, I keep thinking. But still, I am. It seems like bands reuniting is happening a lot these days, and the process does not always yield fruitful results. I would hate for this evening to be disappointing. But, why should it be? It’s the Pixies, I tell myself. The goddamn Pixies.

Doubts still manage to surface, though. “Thou shalt not put musicians or recording artists on ridiculous pedestals, no matter how great they are or were,” rapper Scroobius Pip says in his project’s hit song. It’s true, I tell myself. The Pixies are a great band, but a band nevertheless, and bands are not infallible. I might be disappointed, I just might.

I am not.

Let us start by the beginning. When I walk in, opening act Fidlar is handling things. Its members play a sort of punk-flavoured surf rock with lots of great guitar riffs and upbeat chords. Every single band member is animated with a juvenile energy, and together, they deliver a very punchy set, with just enough raunchiness to please the heavy music heads. I thoroughly enjoy it.

Then, after the typical languishing break, the lights die down. Finally. I notice that the cheer that erupts from the febrile audience has a strange sonic quality. Something’s different from the usual “hell yeah!” excitement, but I can’t quite put my finger on what. It’s a happy cheer, of that I’m sure.

And it begins. The veteran unit starts going through its rich catalogue. A lot of the songs are from the fresh pair of EPs, but the classics find their way into the set too. Mr. Grieves, Here Comes Your Man, and so on. The first few notes of Where Is my Mind? send the blood rushing to my head. Throughout this exploration of its oeuvre, the band shows that it has not lost much of its musical deftness.

The staging, the mise en scène, also deserves a mention. Several rows of rectangle-shaped transparent screens that are framed in wood are hung from the ceiling, behind the band. The screens have a sort of texture, something that looks like the blurred windows of a glass-bound shower. From behind those, massive waves of hazy coloured light, as well as the big white beams of a few projectors shine brightly, hitting the screens simultaneously. The effect is stunning. At the start of every new song, a few light tricks come punctuate that already vibrant whole, rendering the experience beautifully multisensory. It’s easy to tell that whoever worked on this show’s lighting was very careful to forge ambiances that correspond to each and every song. It’s quite astonishing.

During Where Is my Mind?, for instance, the projector beams that are hovering over the series of screens in the background turn into circular constellations of gleaming stars, the waves of light become a deep shape of purple, the distortion of the guitar line fills the venue... At that moment, I take a good hard look around myself. Then, I grasp it.

What I heard in the big cheer from the crowd earlier, that thing I could not put my finger on, is now clearly laid out in front of me. In the audience members’ eyes, I see a glimpse of sentimental satisfaction. These people are filled with the nervy restlessness of their youth, they are struck by flashes of the moments that this very music used to fill, back in the day. They are re-living these ephemeral instants of grungy angst, these smoke-filled minutes of heavenly nonchalance. Hence the numerous sing-alongs, the synchronized swaying of hordes of lighters, the “we missed you!” mood infused in every cheer. These people are invested by the most ambiguous of bittersweet feelings, that melancholic and oneiric sentiment…


I would recommend, however, that fans avoid letting their old memories get in the way of their openness for novelty, because the Pixies are back, for real, with kick-ass new material. I don’t know about you, but I think it truly is something to be pumped about.

Just check out this new video. Pumped, I tell you.

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