When: 15 January 2014
Where: Massey Hall, Toronto
In One Word: Chemistry
What greater stage for the Pixies to kick-off the North America jaunt of an extensive 2014 tour schedule, than Massey Hall in Toronto? In terms of its grandiosity and history, and the aural and visual experience, it stands tall as Toronto’s premier concert venue. It’s a place for memories and reputations to be made and cemented by elite musicians, and for stories to be made and told.
Just three days prior at Massey Hall, Neil Young had taken the stage to raise awareness of the Alberta oil sands and to strike down the regime of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Neil Young did this before playing a sold-out show. Tonight it was the Pixies turn to play to a sold-out Massey Hall crowd, and they had a statement to make too: It’s 2014 and we’re not past it yet. The Pixies, who formed in 1986, just released a bunch of fresh material on two new EPs, and they have a new touring band member in Paz Lenchantin who steps in on bass in the wake of Kim Deal’s departure from the band last year.
As the show began, I spent the first three songs watching from the sidelines while taking photographs with other members of the media. In hindsight, I must have been in stop and stare mode, because I took just 31 photographs of the band: less than one roll of 36 film, in old school terms, and much less than some of the machine-gun camera clicks that I heard to my sides. I stopped and stared the last time I saw Pixies in 2009, too. Sometimes you just have to appreciate and be in the moment, and as I exited Massey Hall with the other photographers and re-entered as a member of the audience, I found myself among a crowd who were all doing the same thing of being in the moment. During this show I noticed a refreshing lack of people holding up smartphones to take blurry photos of shoulders and stage lights, and instead I saw a lot of people standing in their seat area enjoying the show in their own way; either singing along, just standing, or dancing wild on the spot. (Props to the guy down at the front, stage right, who was dancing joyously like a man possessed the entire show.)
It was a bit of a slow start for everyone, Pixies included, who were perhaps a little on edge as they opened the first night of their North American tour, with a new band member too. However, as soon as the opening notes of the seventh song “Here Comes Your Man” started, the entire audience made rose to their feet and then the majority remained standing for the rest of the night. The band became buoyed by the enthusiasm of a Toronto crowd who sung along in almost-harmony with Black Francis— it’s difficult to be completely in unison with Black Francis, and the Pixies are not meant to be a sing-a-long band in any case.
A lot of the attention tonight was on bass player Paz Lenchantin, and as the spotlight fell on her for “Bone Machine”, she seemed to grow in confidence, chomping out the notes and shouting out the words. A couple of songs later, and Paz was really into it, as she sung and yelled along to “Tony’s Theme”. Paz was owning it. The Pixies were owning it. What was I seeing? Chemistry! Togetherness! The Pixies were having fun and becoming tighter and bolder together as they barrelled through their songs, old and new. It really added to the enjoyment of the show to see Paz being so welcomed by her new band mates and a sold-out Massey crowd who were all rooting for her. She has style too, so cool.
The Pixies spread their new material throughout their set, and it all flowed together pretty well. “Bagboy” is my favourite of all the new songs so far, and got some good shouts from the crowd. It was followed back-to-back by two new songs from EP-2, “Magdalena” and “Snakes”. “Snakes” was given it’s live debut tonight, and it’s a little different: the reception was naturally a bit mixed, but the crowd soaked it up and nodded along. Joey Santiago’s mid-song instrumental was cool, and it’s all a bit mysterious how the song charges along to the chorus and a guitar hook, then ends with a fade out. It’s cool to see the Pixies doing fresh things: their songs have always been a bit different. “Blue Eyed Hexe”, which was played tonight near the very end of a 33 song set, is another interesting new sound: a 3:25 minute odyssey of weirdness from the alien brain of Black Francis.
By the time Pixies played “Where Is My Mind?”, you thought the band might be getting ready to call it a night. But no. Along came three other classics in a row. “Gouge Away”, boom!, “Debaser”, boom! “Broken Face”, boom! The Pixies were on fire. They were having fun too. Joey Santiago had fun messing and got a huge cheer as he walked to centre stage and swung his guitar around to make a bunch of sounds, during a departure on “Vamos”.
Massey Hall has had it’s share of historic concerts, but as a musician or band you do not make memorable nights on reputation alone. The way the band came together tonight was one of the best and most memorable moments I’ve ever seen at a show. Each band member had their moment in the limelight, but tonight will be remembered for Paz. After the Pixies ended their set with “Tame”, there was massive applause — Joey Santiago, Black Francis and David Lovering all went to the edge of the stage to show their appreciation, but Paz Lenchantin hung back, politely, and looking bashful. Her bandmates saw her hanging back and waved her to step closer to the crowd, which led to huge cheers for Paz. If she had any doubts about being welcomed in Kim Deal’s place, these must now be gone.
With a punch on the arm to David Lovering by Black Francis, Francis held up his finger to beckon one more song. Lovering looked shattered, and the whole band had given their all for the past hour and forty minutes, but they did the unexpected and played an encore. “Planet Of Sound” was the Pixies send-off and a thank-you to a fantastic crowd.
The Pixies have had a great past, and it’s great to see them back. Yes, they can still kick it. In 2014 they can look forward to an exciting year ahead as one of the most interesting and entertaining bands around.
© Brian Banks, Editor, Music Vice
Oh, and a note to the one fan who argued with security before the show, after getting kicked out for being drunk and disorderly:
If the fans are 5,
Then security is 6,
And the band is 7!
Share and discuss using the links below. Follow Music Vice on Twitter at @MusicVice. Long Live Indie!