Pictures and Words by David Brendan Hall
Before Monday night’s sold-out gig at Stubb’s BBQ, the Pixies hadn’t played the mainstay Austin venue for about 12 ½ years. When they took that stage the last time – Oct. 20, 2004, freshly united with original bassist Kim Deal in the mix – it was an exercise in nostalgia: song selections spanned their first four albums (1988-1991), but featured no new material, though – after their 11-year hiatus – the performance felt fresh and veritably vibrant.
The band’s return to ATX in 2014 for a stop at the now-demolished Austin Music Hall marked a baby step toward reclaiming relevancy in the present – after firing both Deal and her brief replacement, the Muffs’ Kim Shattuck, they’d enlisted all-star basswoman Paz Lenchantin (Zwan, A Perfect Circle) and begun working in tunes from soon-to-be-released 5th album, their first full-length in 13 years, Indie Cindy. While that night showed the quartet hitting a new stride, Monday’s return to Stubb’s revealed Pixies as more polished, prolific and pertinent than ever before.
Case in point: their nearly flawless push through 31 songs within 90 minutes, which saw frontman Black Francis thrashing about just slighty more than usual, as though he was reliving the visceral vibes of the band’s past performance at this venue. The bulk of those recalled both essentials and rarities from the group’s golden era – everything from “Caribou” to “Where is My Mind?” to “Ana” – and likewise served as the scaffolding propping up eight of twelve new tracks off sixth album, September 2016’s Head Carrier.
Crowd reactions to these were visibly less enthusiastic, but strategic framing among old favorites increased their impact: punk rock chugger “Um Chagga Lagga” was the righteously rowdy primer for Surfer Rosa riots “Isla De Encanta” and “Something Against You,” the prettiness of Lenchantin-led “All I Think About Now” was a necessary calm before the scream-deluge of “Debaser,” and a mid-set hat trick – “Might As Well Be Gone,” “Head Carrier” and “Talent” – meant that the show’s beginning and end favored old-school gems (“Hey” came uncustomarily early, “Gouge Away” finished off the main set, and Doolittle B-side “Into the White” served as the one-song, white-smoke-enshrouded encore).
“When I was a young man in Boston, Massachusetts, I waited from 9 a.m. until show time to see the Pixies at the Avalon,” recalled Xan Aird, lead guitarist of New York outfit Public Access T.V., who opened the gig with solid set of tunes that resounded like a peppier, country-fied version of the Velvet Underground.
Probably a safe bet that a fair amount of people in the audience were having similarly sentimental remembrances about Pixies’ previous turn at Stubb’s – good on the seminal alt-rock outfit for reveling in the abounding nostalgia without drowning in it. With the strength of their new tunes in tow – plus the concurrent boost of energy those numbers have noticeably injected into their stage presence – they’ll have their heads above water for many years to come.
Photos of Pixies – Stubb’s Austin – May 1, 2017
Set list (Pixies w/Public Access T.V. – Stubb’s Austin – May 1, 2017):
Um Chagga Lagga
Isla de Encanta
Something Against You
No. 13 Baby
Might As Well Be Gone
Monkey Gone to Heaven
Where is My Mind?
All the Saints
Winterlong (Neil Young cover)
All I Think About Now
Wave of Mutilation
Into the White
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