In one of the select few U.S. shows in their latest set of dates constituting the band's Doolittle tour, the Pixies brought their highly-influential pre-grunge chops to the historic Fox Theatre. Last Friday Downtown Detroit was hopping for what was an otherwise drizzly April night. The Tigers were whomping some White Sox butt across the street and a sold out crowd of thirty-somethings and middle-aged white metro-Detroiters filled the ornate theater. A few amps, mic stands, and platform with a drum kit set the stage, stand before a giant LED screen flashing video with each of the night's songs.
I got to hear the opening B-side Dance The Manta Ray from the security office, waiting to be escorted in to shoot from one side of the stage. Another short b-side, Weird At My School sounded a lot better as I actually got to see some of that from inside the theater, although my own appreciation and enthusiasm for the b-sides was somewhat admittedly more limited than other songs performed that night. But, as bassist and vocalist Kim Deal jokingly commented they were still learning some of the b-sides themselves before launching into another two - Baileys Walk and Manta Ray. I barely took note of these songs that weren't as permanently etched into my brain as every song in the whole Doolittle set that followed. I have to thank my old dear friend Jannette for truly getting me hooked on that album in the Summer of 1998. I'd always appreciated various Pixies songs, from the b-side slow UK version of Wave of Mutilation featured in the movie Pump Up the Volume to Where Is My Mind, later featured in Fight Club to numerous other random songs I'd heard. But I was never a real fan until I repeatedly listened to that cassette tape (kids, ask somebody born before 1990) while driving across the country from Tucson to Providence. In the years that followed, I lamented the band's break up, not being satisfied with Frank Black & the Catholics or Breeders side projects. I was fortunate to see their 'Pixies Sell Out' tour in 2004, which was amazing, despite crappy seats, it was just phenomenal to see them play.
And so, as the first high-pitched, distortion-laden notes and bass line for the opening Doolittle song Debaser rang out, I was focusing on looking over heads and trying to get a decent shot or two. I barely noticed frontman Black Francis and Deal trade off on vocals. The audience didn't leave its collective feet all night, and the all-too grey haired crowd was transported back to their respective college days as Black Francis screamed Tame. Or more accurately, "TAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAME." The normal/fast version of Wave of Mutilation followed and even through my Nikon-focused eye, I could hear some interesting fills by guitarist Joey Santiago from time to time. As the Pixies started I Bleed, the screen behind bathed them in red light. And then, with their short songs, I was being ushered back out while one of my favorite songs from the album Here Comes Your Man chased me out of the building. I jogged the 6 flights of stairs in the parking garage to stow my gear in my car before getting back in the theater in time to hear Mr. Grieves and the remaining second half of the album.
Some noteworthy thoughts and highlights without a complete song-by-song rundown: La La was great being close enough to actually see all four members of the band rotate vocals while singing, "I love you. I love you. I do. I - Love - You," while flaming hearts danced across the screen behind them. Throughout the show I was constantly impressed with the quality of the performance. Although they were playing an album over 20 years old, this was no attempt by aging rockers to relive their glory days. Even Black Francis' whistling during La La was spot-on. The Song #13 features Santiago's surf-tinged guitar line and I was impressed to see them extend the guitar jam in the middle of the song a bit in comparison to the studio version. Following Gun which featured Deal's reverb-heavy vocals, Hey presented some fun opportunities for fan interaction (Black Francis is yelling 'Hey' at the audience after all) as the song lyrics appeared in scribbled handwriting on the screen behind. And paying homage to Black Francis' love for the American Southwest, the vaguely spaghetti-Western themed Silver featured the band's slow, high-pitched vocals set in front of joshua trees. As Santiago's guitar screeched in contrast with Deal's soft, sweet, throaty vocals where you could almost see the portly front man at high noon in an old west ghost town. Gouge Away is one of my favorite songs on the album, possibly based on the biblical old testament tale of Sampson and Delilah. In between Santiago's guitar leads, Black Francis' discordant plucking of high notes added the perfect element to the closing song.
Following an extended bow by the band, they quickly returned to the stage for the more b-sides, including the slow, almost wistful UK Surf version of Wave of Mutilation, an intense, almost hyperactive White. And the audience just couldn't get enough. We can only hope that any new numbers that the band puts out (as they've been hinting at for a while) on their rumored forthcoming album will come close to Doolittle.