Live Review: Pixies with FIDLAR at Strathmore Hall, Bethesda, MD – 26th January 2014

By on Wednesday, 29th January 2014 at 2:00 pm

My entertainment last Sunday night was more unique than most of the shows I usually attend: the headliners weren’t an indie band but instead were American alt-rock legends Pixies. How exactly do you review a band who means so much and on such personal terms to so many people around the world? What can be said on a purely newsworthy level is the appearance of touring female bassist and backing vocalist Paz Lenchantin, who replaced Kim Shattuck, who had been sacked by in the band back in November 2013, but who had replaced departing original bassist Kim Deal. Got all that? Good.

The opening band for the night were Los Angeles stoner skate punks FIDLAR, who I’m sure owe Pixies a lot: without them first showing that it was possible for an alt-rock band to dream of global success, there may never have been a FIDLAR, or loads of other noise punk-type bands. It was impossible to avoid the onslaught of hype surrounding the band at SXSW 2012 and to be honest, that decreased my desire to check them out, knowing everyone and their gran was going to see them in Austin. While I’m glad I finally saw them this weekend so I can say I’ve seen them, I’m still not sold. I can see that some young kids think of bands like them as kindred spirits, playing loud music that their parents don’t and will never understand, about a lifestyle they themselves know nothing about (see a similar phenomenon with Eminem’s popularity).

But is it really necessary to have songs titled ‘Cheap Beer’ and ‘Cocaine’? (Yes, not surprisingly, both songs are about partaking in those things.) ‘I Don’t Give a Fuck’ and ‘I Just Wanna Die’? (Umm…) To their credit, they played a pretty long set, which is not an easy feat if the majority of your songs are loud (vocal cord destroying) and played very fast. Unfortunately, because nearly each song was about providing a swift sonic assault to the ears, they were pretty much indistinguishable from each other to me. And I’m not sure which one of their band members it was, but the way one of them said “thank you” after the polite audience applause was hilarious, as if he was trying to be a child-sounding cartoon character.

The sold out venue filled out just prior to Pixies taking to the stage. Whenever I come to Strathmore for a gig, what always runs through my mind is, “this has got to be a strange venue for rock bands to play. They must feel really weird at this moment.” To their credit, Pixies’ live setup helped to minimise that ‘weird’ feeling so the band could have it under their control. When their crew brought out what looked like scores of television screens at the back of the stage, I expected images to be broadcast on them all night. But that would be too predictable, wouldn’t it? No, the screens actually acted more like windows, so it gave you the feeling of being onboard a spaceship. Pixies’ spaceship. Coloured lights gleamed in varying patterns, depending on the song and the mood desired. When off-white lights were used in a flashing pattern behind the screens as well as on the floor onstage, it was an unsettling scene that made you feel like the place was on fire. Less scary and much more warm blue and red lighting felt appropriate during newer ‘EP2’ track ‘Magdalena’.

True to his name, Black Francis wore a black t-shirt to the proceedings. The man, however, barely spoke a word to us all night, with Pixies preferring to launch into each and every song with renewed gusto, which was fine by the mostly middle-aged punters in attendance at Strathmore. (If you’re in the mood to hear the man being interviewed by Lammo, here’s a bit they did last autumn when the Pixies were in for a special 6music concert.) I’d never seen them before and I was taken aback by how hard they played and just how much screaming Black Francis does! Hats off to you, brother.

Predictably, the big hits – ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, ‘Here Comes Your Man’, ‘Wave of Mutilation’, ‘Where is My Mind?’, Debaser’ in the encore – got the most attention, but I think it speaks to the band’s quality of songwriting that newer songs ‘Bagboy’ (complete with UFO-like light projections) and ‘Greens and Blues’ held their own against their years of musical legacy. After a pretty comprehensive look back at Pixies’ back catalogue, it becomes eminently clear that the band’s esteemed place in rock ‘n’ roll history is safe. No wonder so many bands these days list them as an influence.

After the cut: Pixies’ set list.

Pixies’ Set List:
Bone Machine
Wave of Mutilation
Head On (Jesus and Mary Chain cover)
Gouge Away
What Goes Boom
Monkey Gone to Heaven
Crackity Jones
Isla de Encanta
Silver Snail
Mr. Grieves
Nimrod’s Son
Indie Cindy
Here Comes Your Man
La La Love You
Brick is Red
Ed is Dead
Motorway to Roswell
In Heaven (Lady in the Radiator Song)
Andro Queen
Greens and Blues
Where is My Mind?
Planet of Sound

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