Seminal alt-rock band the Pixies leveled The Space at Westbury on Sept. 22, delivering a seismic barrage of songs spanning their collective two-decade career as one of rock’s most dynamic and influential groups, and proving to all those in attendance and/or reading this post that although most of the music on the radio nowadays may completely suck, rock is not dead.
The Friday night gig also featured an impressive performance by opener Sunflower Bean—a power trio whose guitarist/vocalist Nick Kivlen and drummer Jacob Faber hail from Long Island. Bassist/model Julia Cumming shares vocals with Kivlen, and the band rifled through several tracks, including a handful from their 2016 full-length debut Human Ceremony—among them WFUV staple “Easier Said.”
The Pixies—drummer David Lovering, guitarist Joey Santiago, singer/guitarist Black Francis, and bassist Paz Lenchantin (who replaced Kim Shattuck, who replaced original member Kim Deal)—played for about two hours, delivering a nonstop set packed with classic fan faves and newer numbers, even sprinkling in deeper cuts such as “Havelina” from 1990’s Bossanova and “Motorway to Roswell” off ’91’s Trompe le Monde.
The Westbury stop was one a handful left in the Northeast before the band continued on throughout the Midwest and Western United States—with more than a dozen sold-out gigs in Missouri, Illinois, Minnesota, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and California—supporting 2016’s Head Carrier, their latest drop and sixth studio album.
The Pixies deliver a brand of rock that’s tough to define. There’s some surf guitar in there. There’s their legendary quiet-loud dichotomy admittedly and shamelessly ripped off by more popular bands, including Nirvana. There’s folk, some psych, country, and straight-up punk, for sure.
Francis’ vocals range from long, gorgeously sustained notes to blood-curling screams—most of the time, the latter. Santiago punctuates and obliterates, Lovering runs the spectrum, and the bass pulsates beneath and throughout it all like some cosmic ice dragon lurking just below the surface of a frozen lake, every now and again breaking through and melting ancient walls of magic winter (Game of Thrones reference, yes).
Their tunes’ subject matter spans the Biblical to the extraterrestrial, and many pertain to darker elements of life—putting it mildly. The Pixies are wacky, freaky, and no-nonsense live.
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They began their assault with “Wave of Mutilation” off Doolittle, a crushing chronicling of Japanese businessmen’s murder-suicides in the 1980s.
Lightning bolt Jesus and Mary Chain cover “Head On” was somewhere here at the top of their set list, too; because of pit stops at the venue’s various bars, forgive the disorderly and/or incomplete list of songs in this review. (It’s a rock show; get over it.) What’s certain is that by this time, a ton of people in the room were already singing and grooving along, and this would continue pretty much the entire night.
Immersed in kaleidoscopic lights and occasional smokescreens, the band ripped through stellar versions of Doolittle’s “Monkey Gone To Heaven,” “Debaser,” “Dead,” “Tame,” “Crackity Jones,” “Hey” and “Gouge Away”—all cult favorites. They also killed “U-Mass” and the aforementioned “Motorway to Roswell” off Trompe le Monde.
The mass sing-a-long grew louder, with fans in full-on dance mode during Bossanova’s “Velouria,” and some swaying during the dreamy, trance-like, and absolutely gorgeous “Havelina,” one of my personal favorites that I’ve never experienced live until this gig.
The band played “Snakes” off 2014’s Indie Cindy, and Head Carrier’s “Baal’s Back” and “Um Chagga Lagga,” and was that Neil Young’s “Winterlong”!?
Somewhere in here the Pixies unleashed “Caribou,” “Vamos” and “The Holiday Song” from their ’87 debut LP Come On Pilgrim, and the place naturally went wild in response.
There was also plenty of crowd chorus and jiving action during “Cactus” and, of course, perhaps their most infamous track “Where Is My Mind?” off 1988’s Surfer Rosa—the latter, if I remember correctly, highlighted by some chaos upfront in the pit, as bouncers promptly removed three seemingly inebriated women who had some type of altercation, one visibly distraught with makeup streaking down her face from either tears or a beer wash (or a mixture of both) as she pushed past onlookers after the crowd pointed her out to security.
Really wouldn’t be a Pixies gig without at least a little chaos.
After the set, the house erupted in absolutely deafening cheers and applause, and Francis, Santiago, Lovering and Lenchantin left their gear, and side-by-side, stood center stage, waving. They disappeared as a dense white smoke-fog rolled out, cloaking the entire stage and obscuring everything.
A thick, pulsating bass line soon emanated from behind the haze, above it Lenchantin’s voice. The crowd exploded as backlights illuminated the shadowy silhouettes of the band as they collapsed into old-school B-side “Into The White” as an encore.
The billowing smoke lingered for a while afterward as the house lights came on and most of the audience made for the exits, dissipating just long enough for a roadie to hook me up with one of Black Francis’ guitar picks.
One hell of a show. All hail the Pixies.