For me, “Caribou” is pretty close to the best Pixies song ever, because it’s so definitively Pixies. It’s beauty and beast cryptically commingling in the same song, and it’s full of disarming surprises. That transition from the ethereal falsetto of the title word into Frank Black’s psychotic street-preacher demand to “Repent!” gets me every time, and so it was with the song’s dynamic performance at Revolution Live last night. The lead-up to the breakdown was even more extreme—more dreamlike—and the call to “repent” exited Black’s throat like a primal scream, a bone-scraping disruption that leveled off into the song’s controlled structure as quickly as it came.
This was one of several highlights, too many to name really, in a marathon “secret show” that spanned 130 uninterrupted minutes and 41 songs. This was also a historic show that saw the first—probably controversial—performance of an early Pixies hit since its retirement from the stage in 2011. I’ll get to that later.
It’s worth noting, before jumping into the details, how rare and exciting and surreal this experience was. This is a band that would never play a club this small under normal circumstances. Weeks ago, the Pixies announced this show under a different name (“Debaser”), but, given that they’re launching their co-headlining tour with Weezer tonight in West Palm Beach and that “Debaser” is, of course, a classic Pixies song, a few intrepid reporters put two and two together (kudos to Sun-Sentinel and Miami New Times), suggesting that “Debaser” was, in all probability, the Pixies.
Driving down Southwest Third Street en route to the parking garage, and seeing the equipment stacked outside with the word PIXIES emblazoned in white left little doubt that the plugged-in few who bought tickets based on a hypothesis were going to get what they came for. And then some, it turns out. After making us wait a full two hours after the opening of the doors, the band proceeded to perform a embarrassment of riches—hits, deep cuts and recent songs that, I would imagine, encompasses its entire master set list for the tour.
This was the Pixies’ first time playing in front of an audience for about six months. For $30, we received what might have amounted to a two-hour test run for the Weezer tour, though with one exception, the set sounded tighter than David Lovering’s snare drums. As far as I could tell, only “Velouria” fell victim to technical difficulties—it’s a wonderful song, but you wouldn’t know it from the feedback-drenched dumpster fire we received.
Otherwise, we tolerated the skillfully executed newer songs—the chasm in audience appreciation from the classic material to the post-reunion tunes was as wide as the Grand Canyon—and saved our energy for the early stuff, much of it triggering Pavlovian responses from the very first chord, and more than a few mosh pits. The punk buoyancy of “Crackity Jones” was blissful nourishment for hungry ears, and “Vamos” was its usual everything-in-four-minutes highlight, showcasing Joey Santiago’s guitar virtuosity as the notes sputtered into a squall, then broke apart as if in shards, the rhythm section creating an intoxicating, galloping groove all around it. All but one Come On Pilgrimcut made the set, and we also heard the majority of Surfer Rosa. Bossanovamostly got the shaft, as usual (In an alternative universe, “The Happening” and “Is She Weird” would be Top 40 hits and concert staples, but alas …).
At the risk of burying the lede any further, the Pixies played “Gigantic” last night. For the first time since its primary songwriter, Kim Deal, departed from the band, fans had a chance to scream the exuberant title lyric and its accompanying overture, “Hey Paul, hey Paul, hey Paul, let’s have a ball.”
Perhaps it took this many years of touring for bassist Paz Lenchantin to build up the respect and courage to step into Deal’s iconic role. Whatever the reason for this reversal of policy, I couldn’t have loved it more: She played and sang expertly, in a tribute that, I would hope, would earn Deal’s own seal of approval, if she’s being honest.
For what it’s worth, the Pixies will probably sound better at tonight’s gig at the Coral Sky Amphitheatre, though they won’t play for anywhere near this length of time. Tickets are still available from LiveNation, and the show starts at 7:30 with opening act the Wombats.