With no money to be made from recorded music any more, many bands of a certain age are being forced to take to the road once again.
Heritage rock is the new genre, based around the old cliché that age is just a number, and recently, sprightly sixty-something Bob Smith played a two-hour set in Glasgow. A bit heavy on ‘Disintegration’, for these, nonetheless it was the archetypal crowd-pleasing set.
Ahead of their Edinburgh show, it seems recent Pixies shows have been sporting 30-strong setlists packed with all our favourites. The crowd is abuzz with anticipation.
First, The Big Moon, who seem to be, perhaps, an obvious choice in many ways. The London all-female four-piece kick off with a barnstormer in ‘Silent Movie Suzie’ – aptly, somewhere between shoegaze and grunge, maybe a little (dare we say it) Breeders. They’re a band maybe figuring out their own style – one minute they’re hazy dreampop, the next (on ‘It’s Easy Then) they’re Haim (mind you, that act’s new single sounds like Everything But The Girl, so go figure), then they’re Babes On Toyland (apologies for the series of stereotype grrl comparisons – talk about clichés). An explosive ‘Your Light’ closes a rousing set and bodes well for future releases.
Popsters often become conscious of their appearance as age marches on, and for the traditional first three numbers we have camera-shy Pixies, it seems – marching on in the dark, Frank Black sups from his cup of Ovaltine (possibly) before the quartet turn their backs to the audience and jam out a version of ‘Cecilia Ann’ before running several tunes back-to-back in an explosive start. Long songs have never been this band’s forte, and when the lights eventually come up, no-one’s quite sure how many have been played – five, six? – as the photographers in the pit rush for their money shot now that Black Francis and co have stepped out of the murky darkness.
Back in the crowd and watching stage left, what is notable is that the sound towards the front of the Usher Hall is really off, as bad as I’ve ever found in this venerable old theatre. ‘Motorway to Roswell’ is unrecognisable until the band hit the chorus, but happily, when I head for the back of the auditorium, I find the sound is crystal clear.
It’s also relatively quiet, and for some of the material, the overall effect is a little lacklustre, and what is also lacking is any sort of audience interaction. A bit of friendly chat can salvage a bad gig, and while this set is expertly delivered, some more warmth wouldn’t have gone amiss.
At some point, probably around ‘Here Comes Your Man’, Black dons his acoustic, for a run of less rocky tunes.
The “UK Surf” take on ‘Wave of Mutilation’ forms part of an acoustic mini-set, which, heavy on new album ‘Beneath The Eyrie’, seems to defy the laws of space-time by being longer than the show itself. Perhaps Black Francis simply can’t be arsed changing back to electric?
‘Caribou’ is a highpoint, blinding lights punching the crowd, the ‘Come On Pilgrim’ track rather standing out among the more recent tunes. Is ‘Graveyard Hill’ classic Pixies, or Pixies by numbers? Both? It’s followed by ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’, and while it holds up in this game of compare and contrast, there follows a spell where every second song seems to come from the band’s post-reformation recordings.
But even older material receives a rather subdued response – ‘Where Is My Mind’ is the only point where the crowd genuinely goes batshit crazy.
What seems like several hours layer the crowd is just having on for ‘Debaser’, though on the way, just into the home straight, we get ‘Ed Is Dead’, then wind up with ‘Winterlong’ and bassist Paz Lenchantin gets as close as she will to a lead vocal on an original Pixies tune – the band presumably mindful of the fans who have declared “No Deal” to the tour.
And that is, just about that – hugs, some perfunctory waves to the crowd (the band seeming genuinely warm and happy to be there, unlike the previous two hours), and Santiago faking some sort of knee injury that, it seems, will prevent him performing ‘Debaser’. However, the group relent, and rush unceremoniously through what has become their signature tune, before heading off and letting us analyse what we’ve witnessed.
And I’m still undecided. Did I actually enjoy what was a professionally-delivered, value-for-money set, or did the soulless delivery drain the joy from my evening? I certainly know that – while admittedly rather younger – I felt more genuine excitement at the aborted SECC show in 1991.
But with ‘Trompe Le Monde’ and ‘Bossanova’ woefully under-represented, and a Scottish show lacking a Pixies take on the Mary Chain’s ‘Head On’ being tantamount to criminal negligence… well, put it this way, I’m pleased that my review pass meant I didn’t have to shell out north of £40 and be left feeling strangely dissatisfied.
But as the cliches have it, you can’t please all the people all of the time, and you can’t always get what you want.
And don’t believe everything you read on the internet.