The Pixies Reunion Tour, April 28, Eugene, Oregon, McDonald Theatre
What a show. So I'd managed to score tickets to the second Eugene show on the Pixies 'warmup' reunion tour, their visits to smaller venues before a larger tour this summer. The show sold out in about an hour and it was only through luck I was able to get onto the website to get tickets. We knew it'd be tricky to even go with a 10-week-old baby to deal with, but fortunately my folks decided to make a visit up here this week and were the perfect babysitters. So, anxiety about leaving the boy for the first time aside, we were ready to head to Eugene.
But let me back up, in case you're not aware of who The Pixies are. They are to '90s alternative rock as the Velvet Underground were in the 1960s -- hugely influential, yet somewhat unheralded in their time. A big influence on bands from Nirvana (Kurt Cobain was quoted as saying of his own work, "I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off The Pixies. I have to admit it.") to Radiohead, Pavement, Guided By Voices and many more, their fire-breathing eclectic combo of surf-guitar spacey punk-pop was one of the most distinctive sounds of modern rock. Of course, just as they started to get known, they broke up, with frontman Frank Black going on to a solo career and bassist/backup vocalist Kim Deal best known as leader of the Breeders.
So that's the Pixies. We got to the McDonald Theatre just as doors were opening about 7:30. Completely sold out the 1,200-capacity venue, an old converted movie theater that is a great place to see bands in an intimate setting (we've seen Elvis Costello and Lucinda Williams both do fine shows there in last two years). You can pretty much get yourself as close to the stage as you're willing with their open floor, and there's a balcony if you're feeling like sitting. Avril managed to persuade the burly door guy to let her bring snacks in with her poignant excuse of, "But I'm breast-feeding!" (Always a good way to defuse large authoritative men.) The crowd was good, a mix of college kids, Pixies fans from all over Oregon and even the rest of the U.S. and assorted freaks.
After a lackluster opening act, the main action started earlier than we thought it would at about 9:30 as The Pixies took the stage. For huge Pixies fans going way back like Avril and I, it was amazing to watch them come out and actually start playing "Planet of Sound." I had a big crush on smoky bass player Kim Deal and although she's the definition of a weathered rock chick it was still a charge to see her onstage, and although stocky, short and bald Frank Black looks like a gas station attendant, that man can wail and scream like a banshee. The real surprise for me was lead guitarist Joey Santiago, whose distinctive burbling strings really provide much of the distinctive Pixies sound. He was astoundingly good. The band in general sounded great for one that's been broken up for a decade, although they had played ten or so shows already on this tour to warm up before hitting Oregon.
The band wasn't much for banter but smiled a lot and just kept playing should've-been-hits from their five 1980s and 1990s albums, one after another -- "Here Comes Your Man," "Is She Weird," "Wave of Mutilation" and more. What a charge it was to see a crowd of hundreds of people all waving their hands in the air to a cultish song like "Gouge Away." Definitely a room full of Pixies fans, no poseurs here. Avril and I stationed ourselves against the wall at stage left, which was good as we didn't get jostled by the moshers up front (at 30-something we're too old to mosh). With the great gently sloping floor in the McDonald and being 6' 2" I could easily see the entire show without much problem. It was a ferociously passionate show as befits the Pixies, but the band were in great spirits and top form. I could lip-read Frank telling Santiago during the curtain call that it was a "great gig."
Highlights? It all rocked, but I thought the renditions of "Hey," "Tame" and "Debaser" were really fantastic -- these songs are where the distinctive "soft/loud" sound of bands like Nirvana had its genesis. I also geeked out at hearing "Monkey Gone To Heaven," one of my top five Pixies songs and one I didn't think they'd play. For the encore, it was grand to hear Kim take lead vocals on the plaintive "In Heaven" from the movie "Eraserhead," a Pixies live staple. Our ears rang afterward, and there was one hell of a logjam to leave the theater, but it was all worth it. Besides, knowing the Pixies, it may not be long before they break up again anyway.
Another fantastic thing is that we've ordered live discs of the concert from this new company DiscLive, which has been following the entire tour and producing limited 1,000-print editions of each night's show using some pretty amazing technology (they actually record and burn the discs during the show using a mobile studio and have them ready right after if you want to pick them up, although we didn't want to wait around because of the baby and it was after midnight, so they're being mailed to us). Great way of cutting off the illegal bootleg trade by offering "real" bootlegs at an affordable cost and what, according to accounts so far, is excellent sound. We can't wait to get the discs.
Best of all, baby Peter did fine with my parents and Avril and I realized that even though we're parents now it's still OK to "rock out" on occasion. It just takes a little more work is all.