At long last, little earbuds, I write up my review of seeing the Pixies last month at the Tennessee Theatre. It was my second time seeing them live, and I must admit, it was a slight letdown.
When I saw the Pixies for the very first time at a music festival in Atlanta in 2005, it was amazing. Mind-blowing, even. One of the best concerts of my life. My friend and I went running to the “alternative” stage, having just caught the opening of Tom Petty at the “main” stage. (I love them both, but Pixies almost always wins out in my book, so we compromised by watching Tom do one song, then ran like our butts were on fire to make it back for the Pixies.) It began raining and I heard the opening strains of “Debaser” as we flung our bodies down the asphalt hill. Once at the stage the adrenaline never stopped. The Pixies sounded as fresh and incredible live as on any of their albums. Hearing so many beloved songs performed live was incredible. I thrashed and danced around so hard that I lost my star necklace. Basically, it was AWESOME. I knew that it would be hard to top that performance. But this was a smaller venue, and I procured kick-ass seats! And the Pixies were performing Doolittle in its entirety, one of my fav albums of all time! How could it be anything other than stupendous?
To begin with, the band just seemed kind of… tired. They’re now on the second year of their Doolittle Lost Cities tour (playing towns they’d never played before), and while I appreciate finally getting to see one of my favourite bands play so close to home, I was also hoping for more energy. Back in 2005 they were freshly reunited and not hemmed in by a set playlist. There was fire in them and in the air that night. Not so last November. At first ten minutes of avant guard footage that resembled German horror pornography was projected on a screen behind an empty stage. I get it, you’re post-punk and weird and cool, can we get on with the show now? After making the audience endure that, I figured it would all be worth it to hear the blazing opening strings of “Debaser” live once more. This was not to be the case. Once the strange film faded out, the band nonchalantly shuffled out onto the stage and picked up their instruments. “Hey, we’re gonna play a B-side now,” said Kim Deal. None of the three guys even looked at the audience. Then the Pixies proceeded to play four B-sides I’d never heard before.
My own energy was flagging by this point. I wanted to hear “Debaser,” damn it, not these watery renditions of songs that even the band seemed to hate listening to as they played. But at least Kim interacted with the audience. David Lovering made a few comments before “La La Love You,” but otherwise the guys couldn’t give a f**k. I get it, y’all are super hip and all, but I paid a truckload of money for my tickets, could you maybe acknowledge the audience just a teensy bit once in a while? Otherwise I might just as well have stayed home and played your albums really loudly. But Kim Deal was awesome. Loved her, loved her grey sweatshirt, loved her straggly hair, loved her whole onstage persona. As my older sister said, guys in alterna rock don’t have to dress up, why should she? And I agree.
FINALLY they launched into “Debaser” and the rest of Doolittle. They still seemed a bit lacking in the energy department, and this continued until they completed Doolittle and its subsequent singles. The music sounded good, they were just lacking in stage presence as a whole. Their show seemed to rely mostly on the huge screen behind them and the pre-filmed visuals they projected onto it. Then there were funky lights sometimes, and other times they performed half of their songs in the dark! If I wanted to watch weird videos set to Pixies songs, I’d just watch YouTube. I was there and I wanted to see their faces, not some art school project.
The crowd was an odd mix of people. There were old hippies who seemed intent on drinking and smoking pot (the latter of which is the dumbest idea ever in a theatre as small as the Tennessee, because you willbe caught), then there were the “free spirits” who insisted on belly dancing in the aisles and knocking into anyone and everyone in their vicinity, and finally there was the ever-present contingent of fist-pumping frat guys. I was pretty surprised to see the latter, but I guess in a town as football-heavy as Knoxville, if someone’s serving beer, frat guys will appear. I couldn’t help but giggle at one couple, though: a girl was pogoing and throwing the devil horns and rocking out, and her fratty-looking guy friend sat by gloomily playing on his phone the whole time.
Still, all of that aside, the Pixies are still the Pixies, even on an off day. It was great to see so many songs that I’ve loved for years performed live. I was completely stoked and revved up for “I Bleed” until a group of people with the opening band stood in the aisle directly in front of me and my sisters, blocking our view. However, I literally screamed so loud that they moved. (I don’t relish it, but I can be obnoxious if the occasion arises.) Once the band was through with Doolittle they played a couple more singles, including one that I didn’t know but was kind of cool because the lights were dimmed and the entire theatre was filled to the brim with fog. Then they played the slowed-down Pump Up The Volume version of “Wave of Mutilation,” which was a nice bonus, then they were done with all things Doolittle, and the band seemed as though they were shrugging off a heavy burden and breathing in huge gulps of fresh air. They launched into a buoyant version of “Caribou,” which was so cool to hear live, followed by the classic “Where Is My Mind?” during which the stage set-up actually enhanced the song with the swirling universe of stars in the darkened auditorium. They ended the show with “Gigantic,” which is as great a closing number as anything.
Overall, I’m glad that I went to the concert. I could never have forgiven myself if the Pixies played my hometown and I didn’t go. And yet, I saw The Psychedelic Furs and Dolly Parton earlier this year, and both put on far better shows, in my opinion. Dolly did the incredible and seemingly impossible feat of filling the biggest stadium in Knoxville with sound and energy, so much so that it brought me to tears. She made it feel cozy and intimate as well as rollicking and welcome all at once. Dolly Parton is a phenomenal performer, and if you ever have the chance, definitely see her live! Equally as impressive were The Pychedelic Furs, at the other end of the spectrum, playing one of (if not the) smallest theatre venues in Knoxville. The show wasn’t even sold out, but the Furs made the entire place light up as they filled the room with vivacity and sexiness. Granted, Richard Butler is way sexier than Black Francis in his demeanor alone. (I always got the distinct impression that Black Francis is something of a dick.) However, the Furs were also on a single album tour, playing all of Talk Talk Talkplus their greatest hits, and they were amazing. Even the songs that I wasn’t familiar with sucked me right in. I don’t know if it’s because the Pixies have been on tour for so long or if the cold of Knoxville just took it out of them, but I was hoping for a bit more from one of my favourite bands of all time. Maybe they just need to break up for another decade, then reunite again. If that were to happen, I would recommend seeing the Pixies as soon as they got back together, before the weight of their own greatness drags them down once more.