Eyeballs were sliced, a car was driven into the ocean and yes, a monkey went to Heaven Thursday night as The Pixies performed its seminal alt-rock album Doolittle in full to an elated sold-out crowd at The Paramount Theatre.
But what does it all mean? Well, that’s a question that was left unanswered at the band’s 90-minute set. After watching the band play Doolittle in its entirety along with its related B-sides, I got the feeling the Pixies wanted it that way.
The influential Boston four-piece has been riding the reunion tour train since 2004 when they got back together after breaking up in 1993. The band has played several high-profile concerts in Seattle since (including a Bumbershoot headlining spot in 2004 and a Sasquatch! main stage spot in 2005) and those sets were all greatest-hits affairs, not a show that focused on one piece of the band’s catalog. This is what made the opening show of the group’s two-night stint at the Paramount so special.
The Pixies’ loud-quiet-loud formula has been aped by countless bands (most notably Nirvana) and while it’s difficult to declare one Pixies album better than another, you definitely can’t go wrong with Doolittle. You don’t get the whole Pixies package with Doolittle but you do some of the best the band has to offer in “Here Comes Your Man,” “Wave of Mutilation,” “Monkey Gone To Heaven” and others. The record helped introduce the group to the masses, the band is celebrating its 20th anniversary (hence the Doolittle concert), and it is held in high regard in rock-snob circles.
Hearing the album’s 15 tracks live and in order was akin to reading a book and then seeing the movie based on the book. A book lets you use your imagination and shape your own thoughts about the contents of its chapters, while the film creates a visual element you’ll always associate with its written counterpart. In this case the book is the record (but there is an excellent book about Doolittle by Ben Sisario that I highly recommend) and it is a mighty piece of art on its own merit. Doolittle live definitely added a visual flair to the record and I’ll likely not think of the album the way I did before the concert the next time I give it a spin.
The set started with bassist Kim Deal announcing “B-sides” before the band began “Dancing the Manta Ray.” From there three more B-sides followed including “Manta Ray,” “Weird At My School” and “Bailey’s Walk.” Then the video screen behind the band flashed “Doolittle” and the band broke into “Debaser” starting the journey into the Doolittle most of the crowd was familiar with.
Throughout the show the throat of singer Black Francis, the cherubic devil of a screamer that he is, was in full force and Deal’s boingy bass and pretty harmonies acted as the perfect foil to the raw aggression felt in Francis’s screams, which is a big part of the band’s appeal. The power of Francis’s vocal cords was highly evident early on during “Tame,” which was far from tame as Francis’s screams made the song sound especially violent and loud. Drummer David Lovering also got into the vocal act during “La La Love You,” holding down skins duties while singing.
As an added treat fans were given a glimpse into the formation of Doolittle before the Pixies played a note when the Surrealist 1929 film Un chien andalou by Spanish director Luis Bunel and Salvador Dali was shown. The film features disjointed scenes of a cow’s eyeball being sliced with a razor blade, a man dressed like a nun, a woman being groped and other odd imagery. It was cool to see the film that inspired some of Doolittle’s lyrics but unfortunately it was shown when the house lights were still on and people were filing in to the venue. Also, it seemed like the connection between the record and the album was lost on most of the casual Pixies fans, but those knowledgeable of Pixies lore applauded throughout the short movie.
The first encore included a pair of Doolittle B-sides starting with “Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf),” which is the slowed-down version “Wave of Mutilation.” The encore ended with a heavy dose of fog covering the stage while Deal sang “Into the White.” The song had quite a literal feel to it with the video screen featuring strobe bursts of white and the band slowly disappearing into the fog. After a five-minute break the house lights were turned on and the band returned.
“These songs aren’t on the record,” Deal told the crowd before launching into Come On Pilgrim’s “Caribou,” which brought some of the loudest cheers of the evening from the crowd of mostly 30-somethings.
The three-song, non-Doolittle encore was short and sweet and it ended with Deal taking lead vocals again on “Gigantic.” Guitarist Joey Santiago finally got his moment in the spotlight during a spazzed-out “Vamos” when he played his ax with a bow and momentarily broke into the "Jeopardy" theme. Santiago is as big a part of the Pixies sound as Deal, Black, and Lovering, and his guitar work is some of the most distinguishable of the alternative era so it was nice to see him get a moment, albeit a brief one, in the spotlight.
Rain Machine, the side project of TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone, opened the show with a 30-minute set. The band has a little less soul and a little more rock that TVOTR. Malone mentioned The Pixies between every song as if he knew the crowd wouldn’t remember much from his set after their Doolittle experience, and he was right. But there are worse bands he could have opened for and worse ways for Rain Machine to gain exposure.
The Pixies perform Doolittle again tonight at the Paramount Theatre. Los Angeles noise-rock duo No Age will open the show. Tickets are $55.
Pixies set list:
Dancing the Manta Ray
Weird at My School
Wave of Mutilation
Here Comes Your Man
Monkey Gone to Heaven
La La Love You
There Goes My Gun
Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)
Into the White
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