NEW YORK, NY—Any time a respected, formerly dissolved band reunites to play old favorites, there are always going to be people who ascribe shallow motivations to that band, gripe about the pricy concert tickets and point out the lack of new releases.
I’m sure that was the case when the Pixies played the Hammerstein Ballroom four nights in a row as part of their Doolittle tour, which has been celebrating the 20th anniversary of their third album. And if you’re one of those people, then you’re missing the point because this tour is about the fans. Whatever the actual motivations of the band may be, the Doolittle tour has allowed listeners to re-experience a great album live and in its entirety and has given old and new fans the opportunity to connect to those songs in a way that can only be achieved in a live setting surrounded by other devoted Pixies supporters.
But before that soul-warming musical experience could take place, concert-goers had to sit through the opening band. Opening for the Pixies must simultaneously be the most awesome and most challenging gig. On the one hand, you get to play on the same stage as one of the most iconic, influential and beloved bands to what will surely be a packed venue. On the other hand, you are playing to an audience that came to see one of the most iconic, influential and beloved bands.
Brooklyn duo Black Gold, who filled in for the UK’s Bad Lieutenant, found itself in that tough position Monday night. Black Gold’s pop-oriented, electronic-tinged indie rock had a fuller, more vibrant sound onstage than in their studio recordings. Drummer Than Luu was a real driving force behind the songs and looked like he was having a blast performing, while Eric Ronick maintained the melodies as lead vocalist and keyboardist. Though the group got heckled when Ronick announced they had a few more songs in their set, I think both the band and audience understood the difficulties facing the band.
Not too long after, the Pixies’ set started with the projection of the short surrealist film, Un chien andalou, onto the screen that served as the stage’s backdrop. Throughout the set that night the screen showed various animations and videos from the looped, previously recorded videos of each of the band members during “Here Comes Your Man” and animated album artwork during “Monkey Gone To Heaven,” to the simple illustrations of lyrics for “Hey.”
After playing a few B-sides in rapid succession, with bassist/vocalist Kim Deal joking that they were so obscure the band had to learn how to play them, the Pixies dove into Doolittle and the audience swelled in excitement and movement. The Pixies moved quickly from one track to the next, wasting little time in-between. Deal was the only member to talk to and joke with the audience.
While hearing Doolittle live rekindled my enthusiasm for the album and made me better appreciate some tracks I had habitually passed over, the predictability of the set list had its downsides. For one, it was, well, predictable. But beyond that, an awareness of the ever-approaching end of the concert started increasing as the Pixies moved further down the album’s track listing. So singing and jumping to “Gouge Away” was a bittersweet three minutes, as everyone knew the Pixies would leave the stage when the song ended.
However, the audience was not satisfied with that bittersweet ending and waited in anticipation until the Pixies returned to the stage to perform two encores that night. For the first encore, they stuck to the B-sides, playing “Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf)” and “Into The White.” During the latter, white smoke enveloped the stage and reached out to swallow up the crowd, creating a surreal, fantastic scene for those near the front. The Pixies revisited their first two albums for the second encore and even played “Where Is My Mind?” from Surfer Rosa.
Though the audience skewed older as expected, there was a decent share of younger kids as well, who surprisingly managed to join forces with one another and start up a small mosh pit during “Nimrod’s Son” and “Gigantic.”
In the 20 years that Doolittle has been around, it has managed to retain old fans, gather new followers and remain as relevant and meaningful today as it did when it was first released. It’s music you can dance, twist, jump, mosh, stand, sleep, live to. In my opinion, that’s justification enough for an anniversary tour.