THE PIXIES + Marble Index + the Datsuns @ CEPSUM

By Oli Pulleybank - Boozehound Radio - 11/27/2004

As the guitar tech put the bright orange bass he had been tuning back on to its stand and sauntered off the stage, the crowd at the University of Montreal’s CEPSUM arena felt a rush of nervous excitement overwhelming them. I stood towards the back, feeling like the luckiest of all the schmucks who had conned their way onto the guestlist, and knew that the wait was almost over. Making their triumphant return to Montreal were the almighty Pixies, having not graced La Belle Ville with their sonic assault in over 22 hours.

Okay, so I went to the second show. But it was their second show in Montreal in 12 years, and I am pretty sure there was violent butterfly activity in the stomachs of everybody who had made their way to the north side of the mountain that night as the arena lights dimmed. The four pioneers of a subversive punk/indie rock hybrid strolled towards the stage, and I thought, "Alright, I can’t believe the wait is over. Wait, he's really that overweight?". Call him Frank Black, Black Francis or Charles Thompson, either way he ain’t the sprightly slender fellow that I’d seen when I image Googled the Pixies. Half-eager and half-wary, I waited while they made their way onto their stage, which was set up with four leafless trees, four Marshall half-stacks and the drum set off center to the right.

Any fear that this night might be a colossal disappointment was immediately vanquished as soon as the band broke into their first song of the evening, “Is She Weird?” Turns out that Ol’ Frankie Boy still got a set a’ pipes on him. His vocals were unbelievable. The band sounded great. Not even the notoriously awful sound of the CEPSUM arena could keep the rock down. The Pixies blasted through their set, leaving little room for pauses in between songs. They were as tight as you could possibly want them to be and particularly impressive, apart from Frank’s vocals, was the drumming of Dave Lovering. He spun drumsticks, tossed them in the air, executed impossible fills effortlessly and maintained extremely high energy throughout the hour and a half set. You could tell he was getting tired, and Frank had to ask him if he was ok before they did an encore, but he gave it his all. As Joe Strummer said, “you can only ever be as good as your drummer,” and Lovering allowed the Pixies to be great.

The crowd was great, and at the same time utterly hilarious. The range of people the band attracts is truly awesome; there were fifteen and fifty year olds, staple necks and soccer moms. The one ubiquitous phenomenon that crossed the entire social divide were digital cameras, which are the cigarette lighters for the new millennium. As soon as the band slowed down for a minute, a sea of blue glowing screens would emerge from the crowd, swaying back and forth with the music as the fans tried to get Kim Deal and Frank in the same shot.

The song highlights included “Something Against You”, one of my favorite tracks off Surfer Rosa, and one where Frank’s vocals sounded, if anything, better than on the recording. The most energetic reactions in the mosh pit definitely went to “Debaser”, “UMass” and “Monkey Goes to Heaven,” whereas “Where is My Mind” got the biggest ovation from the crowd. The encore included “Here Comes Your Man”, another one that got a huge ovation. Another highlight of the set was when Joey Santiago put his guitar on to a stand with feedback blaring, got a drumstick from Lovering, and beat the shite out of his instrument while modulating it with a wah-wah.

The only disappointment for me, and it was a minor one, was with Kim Deal’s vocals. I have always really liked her voice and it was it was kind of off that night. Visually she looks like she’s kept it together the best of any of them, and because of her career with the Breeders, I knew she wasn’t out of practice or anything, but her playing and lead vocals were probably the weakest link in the band. However, they probably would have seemed better if Frank’s voice wasn’t so amazingly intact.

Overall this was an amazing show, it ain’t the same as seeing them in Boston in ‘87, but it was fucking better than 90% of bands in their prime. They are one of the most important bands of American alternative rock and like the Replacements and Hüsker Dü, they were just before my time, so to get a chance to see them with all four original members was a real treat.

Ollie hosts Boozehound Radio every Sunday 6pm – 8pm on CJLO. Listen to him during his prime.