Pixies @ Brisbane Convention Centre 18-03-10


When the Pixies were last out here on tour, back in 2007,  I saw them play at both of the V Festivals: the Sydney one as a paying punter, the Gold Coast one with a photographer’s pass.  I am a huge fan of the band as anyone who knows me will testify, especially if they knew me back in the late 80s/early 90s when they were releasing new albums with new songs on them and touring them, so getting to see them twice in two days after such a long gap was a hugely exciting affair.  But in the end they left me crushingly disappointed; Black Francis’ voice sounded completely shot and the sight of them really going through the motions, playing with no sense of passion or happiness at even being there, and with the band tensions really obvious for all to see,  left a really bad taste in my mouth .

Three years later and the opportunity to redeem themselves presented itself, with all the glowing reviews for their Doolittle 20th Anniversary Tour making seeing them on the Australian leg of the tour look like it might be a promising prospect.  I still wasn’t convinced though, partly because of the V Festival experience and partly because Doolittle isn’t either of their two best albums (three albums if you count Come On Pilgrim separately, as opposed to the CD version where it’s on the same disc as Surfer Rosa).  It was largely seeing Kim Deal sing so sweetly with The Breeders at Ten Years of ATP back in December that made me start to sway.

I was still holding fast from buying a ticket when the very late opportunity came to photograph them.   Originally the promoter sent out a communiqué saying that there would be no complimentary tickets available for review – the tour has been such a shameless grab for cash, why would they make tickets available for review when they could sell those seats and keep the money? –  and the photo opportunity only came through the day before the concert, the first of two dates in Brisbane, the second show 12 days later.  Being the BCC it meant being escorted out of the venue after our song allocation (which we were told in advance would be songs 5, 6, 7 and 8: the first four songs from DoolittleDebaserTame, Wave of Mutilation, I Bleed) so it provided the perfect opportunity to see whether it was worth paying for a ticket and going to the second date; a try before you buy deal, with being able to take some photos thrown in for good measure.  In the end it turned out to be an even better deal as we were allowed to watch the first four songs (Doolittle singles’ B-sides Dancing The Manta Ray, Weird At My School, Bailey’s Walk and Manta Ray) from the side of the stage before being let into the pit for the four we were allowed to photograph.  Eight songs to be impressed, for the band to live up to all the rave reviews and show me that the V Festival experience was just a couple of bad shows that managed to be on consecutive days and to convince me to shell out $90 + BF for a ticket to the second show.

But watching those eight songs nothing had changed since V Festival; Black Francis’ voice is still shot and doesn’t do justice to the songs, there’s still a sense of going through the motions, no passion or real happiness at even being there on stage in front of a few thousand people.  And yet I seem to be in a tiny minority, with everyone else who was there apparently having the time of their lives.

I found Time Off’s review of the show interesting, particularly the concluding sentence: “The hearts of some band members might not have been in tonight’s performance, but the production, the amazing music and the mystique of this truly influential act combine to make it a wonderfully compelling evening nonetheless“.  Surely if you’re going to see a live show and the hearts of some band members aren’t in the performance, especially when according to the review it’s the lead singer, it can’t render the night anything but a disappointment at best, a travesty at worst; you’d be better off saving your money, staying at home with their back catalogue, listening to the songs sounding their very best, and written, recorded and released when their hearts were in it.

I wanted to make sure that it just wasn’t nostalgia that was clouding my judgement so checked up on old and new performances of the songs on YouTube.  Is there anyone who can seriously compare and contrast any of the following live video clips and tell me that the 2009/2010 versions sound better than the earlier versions?  Black Francis’ voice is magnificent in the early clips; those guttural screams at the end of Tame send shivers up my spine every time I watch it.  It’s just a tragedy to listen to it now, ravaged by age and no longer able to reach those high notes, even though there is some power left in his voice,  no longer that amazing sound – with THAT scream – that made him one of my favourite singers.

Debaser 1990

Debaser 2009

Tame 1990

Tame 2009

Dead/I Bleed 1989

I Bleed 2009

Dead 2010

There’s plenty of more amazing live clips on YouTube, including some really early 1986 stuff, which I recommend you check out.  And if you haven’t already got it, the Pixies at the BBC album, a compilation of tracks from live sessions that they did for the BBC, mainly for John Peel’s show, is well worth a listen, even if just for their cover of The Beatles’ Wild Honey Pie.  It’s 9:15pm now and Pixies will be starting their second show in Brisbane right about now.  As for me, I’m happier sat on the couch watching them in their prime, trying to not let the last few times I’ve seen them ruin all the happy memories I have of them.

Some more photos on Flickr.

Pixies Photo Pass





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