Pixies played a damn fine show.
After waiting years to see the band and sing along to their songs, I caught Pixies at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall in 2014–and it was the worst headlining act I had ever seen. A limp and lifeless affair, it was the definition of a band that was just playing for a paycheck. The sole member who seemed to enjoy being there, bassist Paz Lenchantin, tried to win over a concert hall full of people who would have preferred she morph into the recently departed Kim Deal. They didn’t play “Debaser.” They didn’t play “Tame.” They (obviously) didn’t play “Gigantic.” It felt so empty, I couldn’t listen to the band’s records anymore. One of the essential bands of the late ‘80s and ‘90s had become a hollowed-out group that couldn’t be bothered to have fun, and as time went on, the show’s failure became difficult to ignore.
So why see them again? Because everyone loves a redemption story. For all the hand-wringing and dread, Pixies played a damn fine show. Still: would it kill Frank Black to engage with the crowd for, like, maybe a minute? None of the band members interacted with the audience until after the set’s end, when everybody else got a little more affable. Like the last show, it didn’t feel like Frank wanted to be playing for people. This time, however, he screamed his heart out and shredded beautifully, so who needs banter? For the most part, the crowd remained still throughout the show, casually bobbing their heads instead of giving the songs the manic energy they demand.
Pixies have more new music to clog up their set lists now – 2016 saw the release of Head Carrier – but they still dedicated themselves to fan service as much as possible. Leaning heavily on their ‘80s and ‘90s work, they shredded through more than half of Doolittle. They played “Wave of Mutilation” twice – the album version, and the “UK Surf” version (reportedly this was the only show of their Portland residency where they did this). We got a massive, sprawling and immensely charming rendition of “Vamos” in the middle of the set, which featured Joey Santiago proving that he is both an unsung guitar god and an incredibly charismatic silent guitarist. And yes, they did do “Debaser” and “Tame.” Just when you thought they’d played everything they needed to play, they opted to close the set with a cover of Neil Young’s “Winterlong” and the unkillably weird “Bone Machine.” I’d have loved to hear “U-Mass,” but that’s just a nitpick.
As it turns out, the space a band occupies can change the quality of the show in such a way that it can make you write off a band that may still be pretty great. Sure, I don’t need to listen to any new Pixies albums, but I’m grateful they still exist. Was the kickoff of their Portland hat trick perfect? Absolutely not! But it was a lot better to see them in a room full of sweaty rock nerds than in a stuffy concert hall with lids on plastic wine cups. It was proof that sometimes, you just need to give somebody a second chance after they disappoint you, no matter how big the disappointment.