jason moriber

I’m all confused about the Pixies show (Chicago, Aragon Ballroom)

I’m all confused about the Pixies show I attended on November 20th at the Aragon Ballroom in Chicago, IL.

The Pixies owe us nothing. The elder siblings of our alt-rock post-punk revolution, we look to them, yearning for the brilliance of the late-80s surge of misfits, outcasts, and town criers who led us away from stadium rock and tight pants and towards the emotional sleeves of wheat paste, second-hand duds, and endless cigarette monologues. Their mix of mind-opening lyrics and whine-high instrumentation was the minstrel music, the bang anthems, for a few generations of college-smarty-pants who sought a less than hardcore way to be edgier than the mainstream lives they would soon live themselves.

The Pixies performance threw us cake and we passively mashed it on our faces. We, the angst riddled pilgrims of anti-rock, lost causes, and the corporate plundering of all things cool, we bent over and forgave the band in order to get our sentimental fixes. The snake will eat its tail. The Pixies should eat themselves, blow smoke, and release short documentaries that highlight Kim Deal’s genius, because she’s more genuine than all the name changes Frank Black can muster. I don’t care anymore that he’s a master song craftsman. He drags the band down to a desperate level of agacant and ennuyeux. There, I said it. But I don’t totally blame them. I blame us all for conjuring them out of middle-life to bloat-belly pantomime sentimental catch-phrase-tunes that have become the validation of Gen X excuses and the lullabies for the Gen Y complaints.

I was like nearly everyone else in the crowd, counting songs, flipping through my fingers to pin-down the dates of when and where I was when I heard this one, or that one. How I could stamp my passport of alt-rock cred on the loose connections of how I knew them first, before my friends, before you posers. The glee of so many in the audience who shimmied here and there couldn’t trump the slouch-slacked de-enthusiasm of the gray-shorn former punks who kept within themselves as best they could, hiding their colors, playing the role, and mending their own failures as a rock-star franchisees through the fabricated bliss of rehashed old songs.

The band could care less. Frank looked out at us and saw dollar signs through the haze. Truth hurts, but we deserve it. Kim tried her outbound hardest to break free, spicing the event with the gems that make live performance addictive, but even she seemed fearful to add too much time to the playlist. Nobody wants to piss off Frank. We’ve all learned that.

But wait, since when are the Pixies the Grateful Dead playing to an audience of set list fanatics, who, for the most part besides the pockets of psyched pogo-ers and overdrunk party-queens doing the swin, slouched passively letting the songs wash over them. Sure we all did our alt-rock due diligence of head bops, shoulder slides, and smile-glances at our friends, lipping the lyrics to our favorite parts, pointing to ourselves to say “this one is mine.” Since when are we all so boring? Was it Chicago? Will NYC put them to the challenge? Will the Boston show be insane?

I sought the energy of the night, not from the band, but from the eked enthusiasm of my audience-mates. The band was dormant (well, not David Loverling, or Kim Deal, let’s say Frank was the pantomime). Either way, the crowd now owns the Pixies songbook, we’ve ingested it, it tattoos our soul. But we were not all together now, singing along together within the songs. We sing the songs alone, in bubbles of our own memories, ignoring the liveness of this live-moment. The band was a spectacle, an act, a recital. They were the zoned-out TVs that we couch-surf amidst. We sit cross-legged in comfy clothes with fuzzy slippers saying, “that’s my song, I was here when I heard it.” “That one is my song, I remember where I was.” Wait. Let me text my friends.

Frank Black is a businessman. He should have found a different path to a paycheck than the Doolittle tour. Seemingly bored from playing long-old tracks his conceit and cynicism was hard to tamp down. I do not understand why Kim and the rest of them put up with Frank, maybe they can’t refuse the paycheck either. Maybe that’s all the Pixies ever really were, a great songwriting record recording team, maybe my expectations are unruly.

Screw that, I hate feeling taken advantage of and I hate feeling manipulated. I admit it, I relinquished myself to this Pixies tour to finger-plug the gaps in my de-punked life. To hold the foundation of the who I think I am in place long enough for the next greatest hits or reunion tour to hit the streets. Frank, you deserve my money, but you’re not getting anymore, at least not until you decide to do a tour of Surfa Rosa, play another unexpected third encore of more of my favorite songs (which was the only part of your performance you seemed really jazzed about), and I’ll shill out another paycheck-worth of tickets just to watch you defeat us. In the meantime, I’ll download the ringtones.


  1. Maybe you will be somewhat comforted by this: It is my very clear understanding, stated by the man himself, that ol’ Frank wanted more than to just tour and in fact was ready for doing an album, as were the other two guys, but Ms. Deal nixed it in the name of a legacy. I believe the pudding wherein you kind find proof of this is the two Black Francis solo albums, which are really Pixie-esque at times.

  2. I like everything that’s going on in this concert review. There’s the disappointment when reality and perceptions of heroes collide. The sadness in realizing things will never be how they were in the past. And the worst is feeling like you’re not as cool as you think you are. Every word is pained, even at its most retaliatory there is still a slight disbelief in what you saw and the way thing are. It’s a shame most concert reviews don’t include the writers existential dilemma because it makes the read exponentially more interesting. Great as always.

  3. To: AStrung; Who would want to work with Frank? I’m hearing from other folks at the NYC shows that Frank was just as bored playing the set as he was in Chicago. I’m with Kim on this one, why delve back in. I saw the Breeders play a few months back, they were deeply involved in playing a live show, knowing the uniqueness of the experience. I’ve seen Frank play two solo shows, both in NYC, he was never blase about those.

    To: Ryan; thanks mister, the truth hurts.

  4. I’m just saying Charles wasn’t just interested in touring, he had artistic designs as well, and Kim Deal was the one who scuttled those. If you’d prefer no touring and no new material, I get that (though I disagree because I don’t consider these things holy artifacts that will be tainted by sub-standard additions to the canon), but if they’re going to tour I think having an album demonstrates some enthusiasm. I think in this case, Mr. Black demonstrated some enthusiasm is what I’m saying. Maybe not now, but at least on the previous tour(s), though I saw no difference live either time.

    In general though I don’t see the Pixies as a dynamic group on stage, not in any time period.

  5. I went to the NYC show (Night 1) and had a great time. I had never seen them live before. Ever. Frank did seem quite lackadaisical, but Kim had a huge smile spread across her face the ENTIRE SET. We made them feel loved, and she loved us back. David too, for that matter!

    All in all – I’m glad to at least have experienced a live Pixies set 1 time. For me, even though far from Pixies heyday, it was quite epic.

  6. I sort of agree with some of what you’re saying, but one thing that keeps coming out of Charles’ mouth is that they keep being asked by promoters to “sing the old songs” again — its not like they’re hucksters trying to sell something to people that they don’t want. If this is still a viable commercial entity (or is for the first real time) then I say, why the f not? The songs are still the songs. They’re still awesome, and as a long-time fan, sure I feel a little mixed up to be paying for this show AGAIN basically, and I for one (as a huge Frank Black fan) would love to hear some new material, the legacy be damned — but you cannot scream those songs in anything other than full engagement the way he did in the NY show I just saw. No matter how rote some things get, you have to dig deep and pull some of that energy up from somewhere, and he’s doing it night after night! They are as tight musically as they’ve ever been (even Lovering has his chops back!) and for me its a treat to hear this album (or albums, if they wanna come back next year for Bossonova, then in 2011 for Trompe Le Monde) live and in a concert setting – nuff said. Well written review, and very honest and thoughtful, but we don’t need to worry so much about half of what you brought up, even though its good to check.