I had some lofty expectations heading into the MTelus to catch the Pixies. The last time I had seen them was about twelve years ago on a perfect sunny July afternoon outdoors at Stade Uniprix (Jarry Park), opening for Weezer. It is one of my most cherished concert experiences and certainly one that is tough to top, maybe even impossible. But, I sauntered towards the newfangled MTelus bar with the mindset that anything was possible and cast my predispositions aside.
The opening band was Sunflower Bean, a trio from New York City, whose name had me thinking psychedelics and sitars. Their sound couldn’t have been further from that; it was a raw, angular punk rock strain of indie jams. Singer/bassist Julia Cumming delivered fiery lyrics reminiscent of Patti Smith, over the fuzzy and abrasive guitar work of Nick Kivlen and volatile drum pounding of Jacob Faber. Opening for the Pixies was a golden scenario for Sunflower Bean and the crowd seemed to heartily enjoy the set, likely sensing that this type of indie or alt-rock infused with a punk aesthetic was similar to what they’d be hearing in a few moments. It was an abbreviated set, just under thirty minutes, but I guess that was to be expected. Their debut album Human Ceremony is just over a half hour and I’d say this played to their advantage as it left the crowd definitely wanting for more. They were appropriately warmed up for the main act.
The Pixies went straight for the jugular opening with “Wave of Mutilation” from their classic album Doolittle, and the crowd soared up and down with delight. Although the Pixies were touring off of a new album Head Carrier, they made it apparent from the get-go that they weren’t going to ignore their classic catalogue, banging out “Cactus” and “Break My Body” right there along with more recent material like “Classic Masher.” Going into the show, one of my biggest questions was how bassist Paz Lenchantin (formerly of A Perfect Circle and Queens of the Stone Age) was going to fill the shoes of the seemingly irreplaceable Kim Deal. The answer: she did a commendable job, even hitting on songs that required backing vocals to near perfection. It was almost as if Kim Deal never left. Almost.
I dare say I saw a mosh pit startup for “Crackity Jones,” one of the Pixies more high-energy songs. Okay, it was as close to a mosh pit for an indie rock crowd, but I definitely saw people nudging shoulders together! Everyone in the room got to singing for another Pixies classic, “Monkey Gone to Heaven.” Hearing an entire room sing that track truly reminded me of how quirky and bizarre the Pixies could be. Francis Black took to the acoustic guitar at about the midway point of the set and slowed things down a little. There was a definite lull in the MTelus at this point as certain members of the crowd began to meander. The newer material and lesser-known songs off of Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde weren’t having the same impact on the crowd as the staple songs were, but the diehards stayed focused and the acoustic portion of the set was truly heartwarming and soul-satisfying.
The Pixies reignited the audience with some bangers off of Doolittle, “Gouge Away,” “Hey,” and “Debaser.” These songs are almost thirty years old, but still, they felt fresh and vibrant. Of course, the climax of the show was “Where Is My Mind?” which got an enormous pop as the crowd clung to every word and swayed from side to side. Then it was over and the band took a bow amidst a smoke-filled stage (I couldn’t figure if maybe the fog machines malfunctioned or if they truly wanted to immerse the stage in that much smoke). The encore was quick, the band disappeared for about thirty seconds, maybe to escape the smoke, and came back for a single song “Into the White.”
Later I pondered if the set came close to matching that glorious summer afternoon twelve years ago at Jarry park and realized that it never truly had a chance. But why should I dwell on the past and put expectations on everything, right? It was a gorgeous set, perfect for its time and place, as well as mine.
Written by Lee Ferguson
Photography by Danny Donovan
*edited by Danielle Kenedy