The Boston Massachusetts quartet set Hyde Park alight with tracks of visceral brilliance.
Pixies are a band built on folklore. With tracks about sex, biblical violence, and Japanese murder suicide, they are a world away from the image of delicate magical creatures produced by their moniker. Then there’s their pioneering, world famous loud-quiet dynamic. A perfectly constructed crescendo of sonic carnage. Something that helped ignite the grunge phenomenon of the early Nineties. Unlike bands before from that era, none, however, have managed to pull off the sheer sense of unusual ease in which Pixies manage to effortlessly serenade and seduce an audience one moment, whilst batter and assault them the next. Their habit of changing the set-list each evening is to be commended; so many bands and artists stagnate over the course of a tour due to playing the same songs, in the same order night after night after night. It is also a demonstration of how far the Pixies have improved as musicians.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the band led by lead singer Black Francis are now generally thought of as one of the most sonically thrilling live acts around. This was only reaffirmed on Thursday evening at a sold out, 55,000 strong scorched Hyde Park.
Interlacing the classic nostalgia with the exciting new, the setlist was masterfully tailored in order to fit 21 songs in an hour slot. A wave of applause filled the air as lead guitarist Joey Santiago led the quartet out as drummer David Lovering began on the sumptuous, inviting “Gouge Away” from 1989’s acclaimed Doolittle album. The track is the Pixies at their absolute finest, the sweet vocals of Paz Lenchantin contrasted perfectly against the fierce howls of Black Francis.
The band dived into “U-Mass”, “Caribou” and the exceptional “Monkey Gone to Heaven”. Opening with four captivating power chords, Monkey Gone To Heaven is arguably the defining track for The Pixies. The lead single from the 1989 Doolittle album, the verses of this innovative track feature a tell-tale lyrical style from Black Francis. With a fantastical, but savage delivery during some areas of the track, Francis speaks of “an under water guy who controlled the sea. Got killed by ten million pounds of sludge, from New York and New Jersey.” From such vivid descriptions of a polluted and decaying environment, Francis and the Pixies have managed to create an atmospheric and artful masterpiece.
They ripped through the evening with conviction, erasing any concerns that this would just be an appearance rather than a rock n’ roll gig. The sound was abrasive and intimidating. “Tenement Song” from latest album Head Carrier is received greatly along with blues laden “Cactus”. The wonderful melodies nestled up beside the brutish frenzy that was regularly unleashed throughout the night.
The primeval “Bone Machine” injects another dose of adrenalin. Guitarist Joey Santiago’s snaking riffs coil themselves around singer Black Francis’s howls in classic Pixies whisper-screech configuration. By the time they segued into “Debaser”, “Wave of Mutilation” and “Hey” a double-shot of adrenalin was injected into the setlist. Leaving fans in a state of pummelled adulation. Francis isn’t renowned for his showmanship, with tracks this sonically brilliant, it’s best to let the music speak do the talking.
Pixies shot to the public mainstream as 1999’s Fight Club featured the now world renowned “Where is My Mind?”. As fans climbed shoulders and swiped up for the camera, the deafening, communal response of “woo-ooo” bellowed around the park as fans joined Paz in helping deliver the track from 1988’s classic Surfer Rosa.
As the dying notes of “Vamos” come to a close, in a little under 1 hour, Pixies have raced through 21 songs with no fuss or grandeur, yet they’ve still managed to captivate the entire park from front to back.The Pixies are a band that appeals to an extremely diverse cross section of society. As time continues to pass, they claim an even greater entitlement to their reputation as one of the best American indie/alternative bands in history.
Words: Matthew Thomas