The topic of touring in support of a classic record’s anniversary can often be a contentious topic for many fans. Sure, it’s easy to please many by offering up the chance to hear an album that shaped their musical taste played in full on stage. For others, complaints may come forth about these artists foolishly attempting to recreate a time long since passed, while some understandably ask – as Grinspoon’s Phil Jamieson once did – “Do we really have to glorify it because it’s old?”
Undoubtedly, there may have been questions raised about such a tour last year when alt-rock legends the Pixies announced that they would be returning to Australia in 2020 to play not one, but two of their records in full.
Dedicated fans know the story of the Pixies’ early work, with their 1987 mini-album debut, Come on Pilgrim, being composed of demo recordings made earlier in the year. Just six months later, the band released their Steve Albini-produced album Surfer Rosa, which, while not generating widespread commercial success at the time, slowly became an underground favourite, serving as a vital influence for grunge and musicians such as Kurt Cobain.
Having taken this tour to the UK and North America in 2018, the fact that the Pixies announced an Australian visit for these records may have been surprising to some, especially considering the release of their seventh album, Beneath the Eyrie, just one month later. However, following an appearance at Victoria’s Golden Plains Festival over the weekend, the music icons found their way to Melbourne’s Palais Theatre on Monday night to kick off a musical education for their fans.
With fans of all ages turning up to witness the majesty of the Pixies, those lucky enough to have arrived early were at first treated to the blistering opening set from Melbourne outfit RVG. Fronted by the amazing Romy Vager, the quartet could not have been better suited to help kick off the show.
Stacking their set with hits right from the start, intense renditions of singles such as “Alexandra” and “A Quality of Mercy” helped set the group apart as being just as vital and mesmerising as the Pixies would’ve been back in their early days. With Vager complementing these songs with her furious playing and stunning voice.
Grasping the mic stand between melodic lines and howling the lyrics with a ferocity not seen by many local supports, RVG undoubtedly drew a sizeable crowd, with cuts from their forthcoming record Feral being interspersed with their more well-known singles.
Closing things out with the increasingly powerful “Vincent Van Gogh”, “I Used to Love You”, and “That’s All”, it was impossible for anyone to look away from the band’s undeniable magnetism and professionalism. If ever there was a set that was bound to generate discussion and the ever-feared FOMO, this was it, with RVG easily one of the most vital bands on the Aussie scene today.
As the clock ticked down towards showtime, a brief documentary of sorts began to be projected onto the screen behind the stage. Narrated by the late Vaughan Oliver, the documentary was an immersive retelling of his work on releases by the Pixies, including Come on Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa, and their 2009 Minotaur box set.
Ending with a tribute to Oliver, who passed away just a few short months ago, the 20-minute presentation not only set the mood for what was to come, but helped provide fans with a deeper understanding of the crucial connection between artwork, the band’s releases, and their legacy each helped the other create.
Before long though, the stage was once again adorned by a number of figures, with Boston’s Pixies making their long-awaited return. Instantly jumping into the lonesome opening notes of “Caribou”, the performance suddenly became this intoxicating affair of nostalgia parading as a wall of noise.
While Frank Black’s iconic vocals filled the air, the distorted guitar of the effortlessly cool Joey Santiago was complemented by the flashing lights and dizzying visuals that filled the screen, turning the atmosphere into what could only be described as apocalyptic, and wasn’t helped by the presence of the word “repent” on the stage screen.
“Sorry, we’ve got to do it in order,” Black joked with the crowd as he switched guitars, appearing to ignore the persistent, annoying, and frankly confusing request of an increasingly-loud fan for them to play “Wave of Mutilation”.
Regardless, they powered on, dishing out perfect examples of why it is they’re household names of the rock world, and delivering them with the ease of band who wrote those songs that very same day.
Of course, it was clear that despite the legacy which these releases boast, many fans were either there for (or simply appreciated more) the band’s hits. Although songs like “The Holiday Song”, “Nimrod’s Son”, “Gigantic”, and “Where Is My Mind?” received the most applause, observers would be remiss to have not mentioned the sheer brilliance of lesser-appreciated cuts like “Bone Machine”, “Tony’s Theme”, and
“Oh My Golly!”
Closing their main set with standard adulation from the crowd, a faux discussion about performing more served as the most efficient introduction to an encore to date. Kicking off this extra set with a slower version the Doolittle cut “Wave of Mutilation”, fans were treated to the only song post 1989 when they dipped into “Death Horizon”, from their latest album.
While Paz Lenchantin served as a natural and fitting successor to Kim Deal on tracks like “Here Comes Your Man”, drummer David Lovering showcased his expert skills on the likes of “Gouge Away”, before the powerful coupling of “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Debaser” put an end to what was, for all intents and purposes, an education in alternative rock.
Though only one of the 27 tracks performed throughout the evening were recorded this side of the ’80s, fans would be foolish to even begin to claim these songs aren’t as fresh and as exhilarating as they were on the day of their release. In fact, almost 33 years on from the release of Come on Pilgrim, the Pixies are still the intense, attention-grabbing performers they rose to fame as all those years ago.
For those who might complain about anniversary or retrospective tours being a poor attempt to recapture the spark of a time that is long since gone, one only need to take a cursory look towards the Pixies on stage to know they are one outfit bound to never fall into this category. Rather, they’re legends of the game, showing just why it is they’re the beloved figures they’ve come to be known as, and performing as if we were right there in the early days, watching the birth of greatness.
The Pixies continue their Australian tour with another Melbourne performance tomorrow, before visiting Brisbane, Sydney, and Perth across the next week. Read on for more details.
Pixies @ Palais Theatre, Melbourne 09/03/20 Setlist
Come on Pilgrim
‘Isla de Encanta’
‘Ed Is Dead’
‘The Holiday Song’
‘I’ve Been Tired’
‘Break My Body’
‘Something Against You’
‘Where Is My Mind?’
‘Oh My Golly!’
‘Brick Is Red’
‘Wave Of Mutilation’
‘Here Comes Your Man’
‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’
Pixies Come On Pilgrim… It’s Surfer Rosa 2020 Tour
Tuesday, March 10th (Sold Out)
Palais Theatre, Melbourne, VIC
Thursday, March 12th
Fortitude Hall, Brisbane, QLD
Friday, March 13th (Sold Out)
Fortitude Hall, Brisbane, QLD Saturday, March 14th, 2020 (Sold Out)
Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney, NSW
Sunday, March 15th, 2020
Sydney Opera House Forecourt, Sydney, NSW
Tuesday, March 17th, 2020 (Sold Out)
Fremantle Arts Centre, Perth, WA