Imaginary Cities and The Pixies Halifax Metro Centre April 9'th, 2011
Greetings, Music Mavens!
Have you ever had this conversation with someone:
"So, any big plans for this weekend?"
"Uh, yeah, I'm going to a concert Saturday night."
"Really? Cool. Who is it?"
"The (insert name of seminal alt-rock outfit that's been around since the mid-80's here)"
"Humph. Never heard of 'em."
The connotation is obvious: 'Well, since I've never heard of them, obviously this orchestra, their little concert and your big plans carry no legitimacy whatsoever.'
This attitude pisses me off so much that if I were ever to find myself on the down side of that same conversation I would cover up my own personal failing by saying: something like "Um, yeah, I've heard good things about them...er, excuse me please". Then I would listen to whatever I could get my hands on from this unknown entity and get my ignorant ass informed.
So, if anyone needs some groundwork before I get into the meat and potatoes of this concert review, here's a good place to start:
Well, in spite of Bono's testimonials, The Pixies are perhaps the most important progenitors of modern alternative rock music. It could also be argued that Kurt Cobain ended his own life because he couldn't come to grips in a world where Nirvana was hoisted up onto a pedastal while bands like The Pixies toiled away in relative obscurity. After all, it was Kurt himself who admitted that he “was basically trying to rip off the Pixies” when he produced Smells Like Teen Spirit.
I'm ashamed to say that I largely missed the band on it's first go-round. I remember my music Jedi Master Mike vainly playing "Alec Eiffel" in an attempt to woo me. Nevertheless their cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain's "Head On" as well as "Wave of Mutilation" and "Debaser" infiltrated several of my mixed tapes.
Then, in 1997, due to the now-undeniable importance of The Pixies in the grand alterna-scheme of things, I broke down and picked up the Death To The Pixies "Best Of"/live album. I played the crap out of it and was also blown away when David Fincher wisely decided to close his masterpiece Fight Club with the nihilistic track "Where is My Mind?" from the Surfer Rosa album.
Regardless of whether or not The Pixies got back together for mercenary reasons in 2004, their return was welcomed with open arms. The tale of the band's resuscitation is told here in the stellar "warts and all" documentary loudQUIETloud:
Unfortunately the band didn't venture anywhere close my neck of the woods during the Sellout Tour. But things have a way of working out so color me pickled tink when a groundswell of local fan support virtually insisted that they kick off their new 2011 Doolittle tour here in l'il ole Halifax.
Since people who show up late for concerts are in the same life form classification as earwigs and corporate lawyers, my ass was in my lower bowl seat well in advance of the opening act taking to the stage. I soon found mkyself duly impressed by opening act Imaginary Cities.
The band has a "so old it sounds new" Motown/R&B vibe. Frankly, there are so many progressive, original sounds to mine from this era I'm stunned that no band has thought about going there before. But Imaginary Cities did, and due to their stellar songwriting, excellent musicianship, and tight sound I'm confident that it won't be long before they're the ones in the headliner's slot.
The band is fronted by the relentlessly charming Marti Sarbit, who pranced and wiggled about the stage like an elfin Go-Go dancer. Her voice exhibited remarkable discipline as it crashed between sweet melody, soulful crooning and verged on Björk-like vocal acrobatics. Between this and the electrified rendition of the band's influences, it certainly added up to a rewarding set for those fans smart enough to show up early.
So impressed were we by Imaginary Cities that we tried to seek out their merch table after the show. Tried being the operative word, there. Either we couldn't locate it in the rat-maze that is the Metro Centre or they'd packed everything up by the end of The Pixies were done. Boooo, I tells ya!
Not long after, the headliner's stage set started to come together. Crowned by several white glowing orbs and a wall of monitors, the show began with copious amounts of smoke and a back-screen projection of the film En Chien Andalou, the 1929 surrealist masterpiece by Luis Buñuel which inspired the Pixies tune "Debaser".
Pretty soon the black and white, sped up nightmarish imagery starts to set an off-kilter tone for the evening. Suddenly I'm completely open to the concept of David Lynch, Magritte, Salvador Dalí and Man Ray slouching out onstage to pick up their instruments instead of the usual crew.
But soon the traditional lineup appears from out of a plume of smoke: bassist/vocalist Kim Deal, guitarist/vocalist Frank Black (AKA Black Francis, AKA Charles Thompson), drummer David Lovering and guitarist Joey Santiago. Without tremendous ado, they took their places and began a sonic assault that for all intents and purposes, should be illegal in its ferocity.
A band has to be pretty confident in its station when it chooses to kick off a concert by playing several obscure B-sides, including "Manta Ray", "Weird At My School" and "Bailey's Walk". In a momnet of real candor, Kim Deal admitted that the band had to dig out the original masters to re-learn how to play those songs again. If she hadn't have said that she could have fooled all of us since there wasn't so much as a hint of rust.
Looking confounding by the choice of openers, the lion's share of organ donors seated around me chose to keep their apparently fatigued asses in their seats. Frankly, there's nothing I find more irritating than people sitting down at a rock concert. Whenever I chose to stay on my feet it was almost as if I could feel several sets of beady little eyes boring into my back. Mercifully two girls seated to my left were true superfans. They danced, sang and made an appropriate racket which kept me from feeling totally ostracized.
Nevertheless, I longed to be down on the floor (where I originally thought my tickets would lead me). It was packed down there with hordes of appreciative and adoring fans. Although I was stuck with a bunch immobile mouth-breathers around me, even they weren't immune to the considerable efforts of the band.
Given that this show was billed as the Doolittle tour, the band ripped through the entire album like a hot knife going through an eyeball. Like an alt-rock Buddha, Frank Black (the one moniker of his amongst the three I feel most comfortable using) strummed and screamed relentlessly. If you think these guys are loosing their edge at all, just put yourself on the receiving end of a Frank Black wail. The sound was titanic and flawless. By the time the guys had dialed up the aggro on "Tame" and "Debaser" half of my face had already melted off.
All the band members had tremendous moments to shine. One minute drummer David Lovering is pounding out a rollicking, propulsive drum line on "Wave of Mutilation" and the next minute he's crooning away like a lounge lizzard in "La La Love You" while his bandmates whistle provocatively and animated hearts frolic on the back screens behind him.
Joey Santiago, who is essentially the architect of the modern alternative guitar sound, effortlessly conjures impossible notes, strangled bursts, and original noises from his guitar on tracks like "I Bleed" and "Crackity Jones". Santiago always seems to be in combat with his instrument. His efforts are not in vain and I constantly feel myself getting chills as several transindental moments are produced.
And then there's Kim Deal. Looking like everyone's favorite, coolest Aunt, Kim is the heart and soul of the outfit. Her punishing bass groves are in stark contrast to her Pixie-like voice (pun intended). Knowing that the task to communicate to the audience must fall on someone, it's Kim that often stops the relentless aural assault periodically to address us. Her sunny disposition shines through as she warns us that we're “approaching what we in the album world call the deeper cuts.”
By the time the band has blown through the balance of Doolittle, the audience is firmly entrenched in their back pockets. The initial shock of seeing their sonic heroes in the flesh has worn off and now the audience is generating one of the most sincere, spontaneous outpourings of hero worship I've ever witnessed. Even though most of my section mates still seem to have lost the ability to use their legs they're still making an ungodly racket of clapping, singing, and screaming.
The band leaves us all sated and stunned as they deliver one studio-flawless sounding but deliciously tweaked track after another. We're battered in quick succession by "Here Comes Your Man", "This Monkey's Gone To Heaven", "Dead", “There Goes My Gun”, “Hey”, “Silver” and “Gouge Away”. Here's a little sampling:
They leave the stage but are brought back by waves of thunderous applause, whistles and frantic stomping. When the house lights go up a bit I'm stunned to see that the show isn't sold out after all. Although the building isn't filled to capacity, those loyal fans in attendance are making enough noise to more then compensate for it.
The Pixies return and treat us to the UK Surf version of "Wave of Mutilation" (which this reviewer first heard on the Pump Up The Volume soundtrack many moons ago). In many ways, I like this version better: it's deliberate, contemplative pace really accents the eerie lyrics. We also get more of Kim Deal's bass and vocal stylings on a bravura performance of "Into The White", which sees the stage flooded with a gout of smoke and dispersed floodlights.
As if that wasn't enough, the band returns to the stage for a second time to sweep away the remnants of our shattered brains. Frank Black immaculately crooned "Caribou" for us and then the band delivered a perfect staccato version of "Bone Machine". Even greater heights were to come as Lovering's pounding drums and Santiago's howling strings took us into a descent of aural madness with "Where Is My Mind". For almost fifteen years I've been waiting to hear Frank Black and Kim Deal trade their disparate voices back and forth on this beautiful yet horribly haunting tune. I can now die just a little bit happier.
I would have been perfectly content if the show had ended right there, but a cherry on top arrives in the form of Kim's spotlight performance of "Gigantic". Her incongruous, nearly-prepubescent voice is spot-on and the audience is instantly charmed when, just before the crescendo, the winsome bassist tells her bandmates:
"Hey, guys, I'm really beat. I think after the show I'm just gonna go to bed. So, I wanna say goodnight to you all right now before I forget".
Like a bizarre, musical version of The Waltons, Kim wished a "nighty-night" to all her bandmates. Dave Lovering takes a moment to assure Kim she's played "a really good show".
She wasn't the only one. I love youze guys. Please come back sooner then later and maybe to a place where I can stand up, dance and go apeshit just like my lucky soul mates on the floor did.
This concert scores four and a half crustaceans out of five. Tilt: up.