Still stirring and raw, the legendary band fill the notoriously difficult venue
Jessie Atkinson
14:27 21st September 2019

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Owing to the massiveness of Alexandra Palace, it is a powerful artist that can fill its grand surrounds. On Friday, cult rock weirdos Pixies do the job masterfully with a living setlist of career-spanning songs that peak during the Doolittle songs yet infuse new, weaker songs with some much-needed rawness.

Save to ask if the audience could hear each instrument in turn, Frank Black - now an uncanny likeness to Jack Nicholson - does not address the audience. And perhaps that’s because he understands that Pixies are more a band iconic for their songs than for their personalities.

The quartet, still featuring that original trio of Black, Joey Santiago and David Lovering (now with Paz Lenchantin instead of Kim Deal), dart through an extravagant 38 songs, fitting them into a two hour set only by moving from one to another at whiplash speed. In songs that require no guitar change, the break is negligible. 

Many cuts play at only a couple of minutes long, and the effect is thrilling; the technique reminiscent of earliest punk in its breakneck rush to reach some unreachable end. Even on songs where the speed hurries the song - such as mid-set on ‘Hey’ - the effect is exciting, lending the Pixies’ discography a breathing vitality that refuses to remain stagnant.

Different from last night, and different from the next, the setlist adds to this by coming, as usual, on Black’s whim - the band following invisible signals as if guided by telepathy.  

The guitars tonight are tweaked to a tone of extreme beauty, their rawness and exhilarating volume mostly responsible for the band filling every crevice of the vast main hall. Santiago’s lead is particularly exquisite, coming in clear and adjacent on ‘On Graveyard Hill’, offering bright, anxious high notes on ‘All The Saints.’

These two cuts, from latest release Beneath The Eyrie and 2016’s Head Carrier respectively are just two renditions that prove newer cuts belong in the Pixies’ discography, and that they need only be played live alongside immortal icons like ‘Debaser’ to prove it.

Still, the audience acts as a litmus test: even if you were unaware which cuts were vintage Pixies and which were recent, it’s clear from the attention exhibited which songs belong in which era. Each song is greeted with a thrill, though there is palpably less excitement surrounding new Beneath the Eyrie songs, which is a shame, because they play twelve of them. At ‘Where is My Mind?’’s close, some of the congregation disperse to beat the rush.

Despite this, Pixies prove that legacy bands on a second wind needn’t pale into cover artists: Black’s voice shrieks and skrikes and yells with the same winding excellence that it always has, adding a much-needed serrated edge to newer cuts and completing the wonderful formula written by those ecstatic guitars. Live, Pixies show what they have struggled to demonstrate in the studio: that they are, in 2019, a stirring and vital band. 

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Photo: Alexia Arrizabalaga