Pixies at Alexandra Palace
It isn’t often a band comes around as influential and genre-defining as Pixies. Formed in 1986 (and reforming in 2003), they’ve inspired the likes of Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins and Radiohead. The grunge alternative rockers take Alexandra Palace by storm with an epic and thundering 38-track setlist, delving into their back catalogue and playing several new songs off the latest album, Beneath the Eyrie.
Gouge Away (Doolittle), a moody starter, sees lead vocalist and guitarist Black Francis ask if we can hear the individual instruments (similar to a sound check), in a long drum and guitar intro backed by Paz Lenchantin’s vocals – she is also on bass. This is the only interaction with the crowd tonight. Both Dead and Crackity Jones are the epitome of Pixies’ quintessential sound, jagged and roughly hewn. Taking things down a notch with the surfer-style Classic Masher (Head Carrier), the ensemble show their ability to play heavier thrash rock through fast and frenzied guitar riffs found in Isla de Encanta (Come On Pilgrim), navigating from loud to quiet melodies. The first to be played off the new record, On Graveyard Hill is a catchy romping song, apt for a Halloween movie soundtrack. A cover of Head On by The Jesus and Mary Chain is unrefined and as raw as anything Pixies produce, though the original is more memorable.
However, it is the sudden flow into Hey that truly captures the zeal of the fans, and many concertgoers hurriedly take out their phones, others head banging in true grunge fashion. Lenchantin’s bass thrum is full-bodied and as distinct as in the original release, while Francis’s raw and earnest vocals sound timeless. Though the quartet delve into older material taken from albums Surfer Rosa, Trompe le Monde, Come On Pilgrim plus Head Carrier, the songs that stick out like a sore thumb – in the most complimentary of ways – are those from Doolittle. They do the band justice, and induce the audience to get into the swing of things; highlights include Debaser, Lenchantin’s harmonies echoing those of Kim Deal, the jaunty and uncharacteristic Pixies style Here Comes Your Man, the audience howling intros to Where Is My Mind and the classic beloved Monkey Gone to Heaven, the penultimate track of the night.
Minus an encore, some fans look perplexed as the lights come on, and though many leave midway – the set drags at points – Pixies play with unwavering energy that doesn’t distil their signature sound. Indeed, some tracks sound confusedly chaotic, and in a difficult venue like Alexandra Palace – and with a very tall fanbase – the concert would have been improved if there were some screens, to make the evening less of a purely aural experience and more of a wholesome audio-visual arrangement.
Photos: Mike Garnell
For further information and future events visit Pixies’ website here.
Watch the video for On Graveyard Hill here: