Review: Pixies at the Powerstation

By P.K. Stowers

The debut of  the Pixies in NZ was worth waiting for. File photo / Getty Images
The debut of the Pixies in NZ was worth waiting for. File photo / Getty Images

To say that the first live performance by The Pixies in New Zealand has been highly anticipated is an understatement akin to stating that the All Blacks would quite like to win the Rugby World Cup again one day.

How anticipated? Tonight's concert at the Vector Arena sold out months ago and last night's bonus gig at The PowerStation for a lucky 1200 or so sold out in less than 60 seconds.

For a four-piece US college band from Boston that hasn't released an album since 1991 to not only to maintain their fan base, but to have it grow exponentially over the years says a lot for the power and emotionally range (and rage) of their music.

But has the legend of The Pixies been built on anything of substance? Can the band back-up the reverent aura of their most successful album, Doolittle, with this anniversary tour to celebrate its release some twenty odd years ago?

Doors open promptly at 8pm and the venue fills rapidly. There's no opening act, and it's just as well.

Tonight the audience is a ravenous beast and it wants its fill of Pixies. Dead on 9pm the band walk on stage to an ecstatic welcome. Myth no longer, The Pixies are a real band and they've come to play.

"Some B-sides," announces bassist Kim Deal, before the band rip into the first of four obscure tracks from around the Doolittle era; Dancing the Manta Ray, Weird at My School, Bailey's Walk, Manta Ray.

While the songs are well received, it isn't until the thundering opening bars of Debaser that the audience collectively lets out its breath. "Okay, now the needle goes down," says Deal and what follows is a forty-five minute run through of the Doolittle album, from track one side one until the end - and it is magnificent.

We experience Frank Black's famous raw shriek on Tame, the anthemic guitar fuzz on Wave of Mutilation, the off-kilter country pop of Here Comes Your Man, and the sinister fury of Gouge Away. Once Doolittle is finished, the band player a slower, stripped down version of Wave of Mutiliation before a final distortion fed b-side, Into the White.

Sure playing an album track-for-track is a little like being spoon fed, sometimes it felt like a giant Pixies karaoke session (on songs like Hey, and Monkey Goes to Heaven especially), and many in the audience are younger than the album they've come to hear played, but each track is greeted warmly like an old friend and everyone is having a great time.

Minor rhythm and vocal alterations add a freshness to the songs and the intensity and rawness with which they are played stops the whole thing turning into an ill-advised nostalgia fest. There's little in the way of fancy lighting stage effects (save for a smoke machine) and it is a real thrill knowing that this is as intimate and stripped down as you can get with this band in 2010.

"We know songs that aren't on that record too," announces Deal coming back for an encore heavy with material from Surfer Rosa/Come on Pilgrim. (Only one song, a storming U-Mass, is played from their 1990s output.)

It is bassist Deal who is the chatty one tonight and Frank Black, when not singing, is a man of few words - none in fact, although he does seem to be genuinely enjoying the crowd's rapturous response with a big satisfied smile.

Bone Machine, Caribou, Gigantic and crowd favourite Where is My Mind? proves a popular and special ending to a memorable concert.

The beast has been fed and it is satisfied. Enjoy tonight's show, the live NZ debut of The Pixies has been an event worth waiting for.

Dancing the Manta Ray
Weird at My School
Bailey's Walk
Manta Ray
Wave of Mutilation
I Bleed
Here Comes Your Man
Monkey Goes to Heaven
Mr Grieves
Crackity Jones
La La Love You
Number 13 Baby
There Goes My Gun
Gouge Away

1st Encore

Wave of Mutilation (UK surf version)
Into the White

2nd Encore

Isla de Encarta
Nimrod's Son
Bone Machine
Where is My Mind?

Note: A special 2CD set of the 1 hour 40 minute concert was available 20mins after the PowerStation gig finished thanks to the touring techs of Abbey Road Live. The CDs were of a high quality and used to help ensure the accuracy of the above song list. A similar CD set will be available to purchase at tonight's Vector Arena gig for NZ$30.

- NZ Herald

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