Black Francis of Pixies is a rock legend and definitely not a man to mess with. Photo: Talyn Sherer
The “Great” Saltair? I know, it’s old and quasi historic and hosted some soft-rock shitty bands your parents liked back when my uncles were jamming with Jimi and Janis on an airbase in Dan Nang, but let’s stop kidding ourselves. At this point, it’s little more than bad acoustics, an awful setup and a swampy makeshift parking lot in desperate need of a concrete make-over. Did any presidents get assassinated here? No? OK, just asking. Until then, let’s drop the "great" charade and all the reverence and call it what it is: a mediocre venue more suited for parking trains than hearing music and not a damn national monument.
Whatever, though. It was Valentine’s weekend, and though I dug deep into the corners of my misanthropic being, I just couldn’t find it in me to get all that mad about seeing the Pixies (no asterisk—fight me) in the live sphere.
Best Coast made for appropriate openers, with vocalist Bethany Consentino delivering a quick anecdote about wearing the reels off of an unspecified Pixies cassette in her first car and being “blown away” at her opportunity to open for the band. Good heartfelt nuggety stuff that even this reviewer can appreciate. What I like best here is that while Best Coast bear some stylistic resemblance to The Pixies (who doesn’t?), the duo (fleshed to a quartet live) has more bubbling beneath the surface, coaxing bombastic melodies from lackadaisical shards of ’60’s surf, ’70s punk and a melodious helping of ’90s alt.
Call me biased for blaming it on the overly spacious digs, or the fact that they had to muscle through their entire set with the turnstile still trundling in late-coming showgoers, but the band’s magical penchant for warbling melodies seemed a tad neutered by these “arena show” trappings. I commend them for seamlessly working “The Only Place” and “Boyfriend” into set highlights, and the synchronized light show flanking them lent an undeniable pizzazz to the set, but I feel like the both the band and audience got shafted by thin sound. In my opinion, Best Coast is most essentially suited for a smallish club or a pair of earbuds, not for getting swallowed up by gargantuan ceilings and goofuses waving lighters, but that’s just me. A good showing by the band, and they still get my support. (Note that I’m in the boring majority that found The Only Place vastly inferior to Crazy for You.) That’s just the way the cosmic brownie batter spreads sometimes.
Now onto the Pixies. You’re prepping for a complain-athon and you’re forgiven for your assumption, but just know that you’re wrong … mostly. I knew what I was getting into from the start, what with no Kim Deal on this tour (or band?) and all, but honestly? Shit was la la lovely. See, I don’t hate “big” rock at all. I never have. I just hate “big” rock that pretends it’s not “big” rock. I’d cash in every “punk” chip I had to travel in time to roadie for Jailbreak-era Thin Lizzy, but that’s beside the point. What I’m saying is that the Pixies are a band tailor-made for arenas. Volume-wise, that shit just works.
“Bone Machine” into “Wave of Mutilation” into “U-Mass” into a cover of Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On.” Black Francis’ screeching, coupled with a blinding light show, congealed into an air of unhinged mania with David Lovering’s metronomic bashing (and yeah, he did that vocal thing on “La La Love You”) and Joey Santiago’s acerbic leads garnishing the maelstrom. Obvious highlights go to the madcap frenzy of “Havalina” and “Crackity Jones” (even faster live) and I can even get behind the doofusy fan-favoritism of “Where is My Mind?” (crowd surfing in 2014 is funny) just because it was such a thrill to see performed live.
As for Paz Lenchantlin’s transition into the touring band, she held her own, not outshining or detracting from Deal’s legacy, but by adding her own brand of utilitarian bass playing (quit pretending the Zwan record wasn’t awesome) and latent vocal harmonizing. Like any dickhead fan, I was miffed by the exclusion of personal favorites like “Gigantic,” “River Euphrates” and “Number 13 Baby,” but sans these nagging bouts of elitism and a robust set that favored post Doolittle cuts over pre (to each his own), I’m struggling to be upset with this particular performance: fat-free rock n’ roll without any political posturing, aggrandized speeches, half-assery or sanguine preciousness. That’s it. See, in our tiny heart of hearts, we can all admit that the excitement of seeing the Pixies isn’t rooted in historicity, exclusivity or “reunion rhetoric” at this point. That shit went down the first go-’round a decade ago. Now, we just love the way those taut verses springboard into those explosive choruses, how the most serrated setups pay off in unrepentant tunefulness and how Francis is more than equipped to hold a set together on his own terms.
Am I happy? Over the damn moon. Great songs make me happy. Great bands make me happy. (Great food makes me happy—I’d eaten some birthday cake on the way in). This set had it in spades, and I’ll never not get all giddy about an encore that includes “Debaser.” Don’t listen to your idiot friends on Tumblr: If you opted out of this one, you missed out. Disagree all you want—I know what I’m about.
Let’s just agree that an old and cantankerous venue that cannibalizes its own crappy setup for paid parking and limp acoustics needn’t host a concert. Gouge away.
Check out SLUG Mag’s exclusive photo gallery of this show here