'A muscular, uncompromising and visceral experience'
Steven Kline
12:42 1st November 2018

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Black Francis – aka Charles Thompson IV – hands his still-steaming guitar to a tech, shuffles to the drum riser and lifts a sheet of paper. Back at the microphone, he clears his throat for what might be his first actual audience banter since Pixies reformed in 2004. Ahem. “You fuckin’ die…”

Reciting the full script of his ‘Untitled’ spoken word interlude – and later performing his back-and-forth about teachers with a taste for field hockey players with bassist Paz Lenchantin playing Kim Deal – it’s clear that Francis and his impish Pixies are out to pay the utmost respect to their none-more-influential 1988 debut album ‘Surfer Rosa’ on its thirtieth birthday. Opening the set with a half-hour film featuring 4AD sleeve designer Vaughan Oliver explaining the making of the notorious flesh-flamenco cover art – and the hairy-backed monkey man who graced the sleeve of 1987’s mini-album ‘Come On Pilgrim’ – it’s as if they want to hypnotise their death cult and suck them deep into their torture chamber aesthetic before dealing the killer blow.

The blow comes in the blunt and brutalised shape of ‘…Pilgrim’ and ‘Surfer Rosa’ performed in full, right down to two versions of ‘Vamos’, Joey’s solo in the ‘Surfer Rosa’ take that little bit more gnarled and experimental, as if honouring Steve Albini studio-scarring the song. Albini’s influence hangs heavy over the evening in fact: the flamenco and surf pop tunes of ‘Come On Pilgrim’, twisted with Charles’s collegiate lusts, religious guilt and Biblical readings – ‘Nimrod’s Son’, ‘Isla De Incanta’, the frantic ‘I’ve Been Tired’ and the (evil) sister-piece to ‘Here Comes Your Man’ that is ‘The Holiday Song’ – sound like the natural result of a dark-minded student let loose in Puerto Rico during school.

The ‘Surfer Rosa’ songs, though, are far murkier and meatier affairs. ‘Bone Machine’ sounds like a monster track built from splintering human bones and is literally as catchy as Hell. During ‘Something Against You’, Pixies most savage song besides ‘Tame’, you’d be forgiven for thinking Charles has been possessed by the spirit of Cerberus. When the red mist of ‘Broken Face’ lifts and Paz has a noble stab at carrying Kim Deal’s indie pop heavyweight ‘Gigantic’, it comes with a sense of melodic relief akin to a blood-stained fist letting go of your throat. It’s accepted that ‘Surfer Rosa’ spawned grunge and set the quiet-loud blueprint for indie rock for the coming generations, but few subsequent bands ever dared to forge pop tunes this raw and ravenous.

The iconic ‘Where Is My Mind?’, with its spectral ‘ooo-ooo’s and spiralling subaqueous hooklines, provides a similar noir-ish sing-along ahead of further degradations; the sinister murder folk of a prisoner requesting his lover’s bodily fluids on ‘Cactus’, the bride-to-be suicide on ‘I’m Amazed’. The encore of B-sides, Frank Black songs and dips into later catalogue – ‘Planet Of Sound’, ‘Down To The Well’, ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ from 2016’s ‘Head Carrier’ – feels like a lightweight afterthought following such a muscular, uncompromising and visceral experience. Well worth the pilgrimage.

Pixies Played:

'Isla de Encanta'
'Ed Is Dead'
'The Holiday Song'
'Nimrod's Son'
'I've Been Tired'
'Levitate Me'
'In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song) (David Lynch cover)'
'Bone Machine'
'Break My Body'
'Something Against You'
'Broken Face'
'River Euphrates'
'Where Is My Mind?'
'Tony's Theme'
'Oh My Golly!'
'I'm Amazed'
'Brick Is Red'

'Build High'
'Down to the Well'
'Rock a My Soul'
'Um Chagga Lagga'
'Into the White'
'Planet of Sound'

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Photo: Patrick Gunning