Pixies - Live in Edinburgh (Cover Artwork)


Live in Edinburgh (2019)

live show

In the summer of 2001 I saw Frank Black and the Catholics play a medium-sized club in Edinburgh. In amongst his good-but-not-great solo material their set included two or three Pixies hits, and I mentally ticked "see Black Francis playing Pixies songs" off my musical bucket list.

Three years later the Pixies reunited, retrospectively making those few songs at that gig seem a little less special. They’ve been touring pretty constantly ever since but for various reasons, mostly a dislike of large venues and high ticket prices, I’d never got round to seeing them. Until now.

The Usher Hall isn’t a venue I tend to frequent, and the posters for upcoming events behind the bar show why: various symphony orchestras, Wet Wet Wet, Susan Boyle, Daniel O’Donnell’s Gold Hits Tour… But the Pixies in my hometown was too good an opportunity to miss.

As I approach grumpy middle age I’m increasingly less inclined to show up early enough to watch support bands I’ve never heard of, so all I can tell you about the Big Moon is that it’s a thoroughly uninspired band name. After a swift drink in a nearby pub and a lengthy queue for more beer at the Usher Hall, we found a reasonable spot on the floor just in time for the Pixies to take the stage.

Without so much as a “hello Edinburgh” – it’s fair to say you don’t go to a Pixies show for the stage banter, Black Francis is entirely silent between songs – the foursome launched into ‘Cecilia Ann’, the surf rock instrumental that opens 1990’s Bossanova. If it was a bold move to start with a relatively laidback instrumental, the energy level immediately picked up as they segued into ‘U-Mass’, blasted through the quickfire ‘Something Against You’, and plowed on into a 35-song set with barely a pause for breath.

Now in his mid 50s, Black Francis is a very cool man in the body of a very uncool man. He actually has more hair than he used to, but he looked less like he should be generating such glorious noise, more like he should be yelling at the perpetrators to keep it down. Behind him, drummer David Lovering wouldn’t look out of place behind the kit in the crappy jazz combo that play in your local bar every Tuesday. But he was flanked by two people who look every inch the (alternative) rock star. To his right, cheerful, animated lead guitarist Joey Santiago, and to his left bass player Paz Lenchantin, who exuded effortless cool, despite not being called Kim, which at one point seemed to be a prerequisite for female bass players.

As you’d expect 15 years into their reunion – they’ve now been back together for more than twice as long as they were together in the first place – the Pixies are a polished live band, and the loud-quiet-loud dynamics, unmistakeable guitar tone, prominent basslines and surreal lyrics of their classic era still translate well on stage. They’ve got a wonderful back catalogue to draw on: ‘Here Comes Your Man’ is as joyfully infectious as ever; ‘Wave Of Mutilation’, even in the slowed down form showcased tonight, is catchier than any song with ‘mutilation’ in its title has any right to be; and ‘Nimrod’s Son’ is probably the jauntiest song ever written about incest, unless you prefer one of the several other Pixies songs on that subject.

Unsurprisingly there was a lot from 1989’s Doolittle. 30 years after the fact, it’s easy to forget just how influential and how incredibly good that record was. It’s got ‘Debaser’, ‘Tame’, ‘Wave of Mutilation’, ‘Here Comes Your Man’ and ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’ all in the first seven tracks for god’s sake.

Some of the new material, from the just-released Beneath The Eyrie, is genuinely strong as well – ‘On Graveyard Hill’ is a driving rocker about a witch’s curse, ‘Catfish Kate’ is a suitably surreal tall tale, and ‘St. Nazaire’ has more energy than pretty much anything on the previous two post-reunion albums. Perhaps as a result of Paz’s rejuvenating influence, the new record is streets ahead of the last two – and given that 2014’s Indie Cindy and 2016’s Head Carrier were almost entirely ignored in the setlist, it might just be the first post-reunion record the band are genuinely proud of.

But the band leaned too heavily on the new stuff at times, playing 10 of Beneath The Eyrie’s 12 songs in total. Things dragged when they strung too many new tracks together, but there was always a ‘Caribou’ or a ‘Gouge Away’ just around the corner. (Fun fact: my friend horribly mistimed his trips to the bar and the bathroom and managed to miss both ‘Here Comes Your Man’ and ‘Where Is My Mind’). They closed with their cover of ‘Winterlong’, which might just be my favourite Neil Young song, before encoring with a frantic run through ‘Debaser’. I felt slightly short-changed by the one-song encore before a glance at my watch revealed they’d been on stage for just shy of two hours.

Let’s face it, bands at this point in their career can’t win – just play the hits and you get criticised for slogging through the same old nostalgia set every night; play too much new material and people feel cheated out of hearing the classics. It’s a difficult balance.

Just look at what they didn’t play. No ‘Bone Machine’ or ‘Gigantic’ – maybe they retired that one after Kim Deal’s departure. No ‘Tame’ – maybe Black Francis can’t cope with that throat-shredding chorus every night. No ‘Velouria’ or ‘Dig for Fire’, no Planet of Sound’ or ‘Alec Eiffel’. Most bands would sacrifice their drummer for that quality of material.

Would I have gladly swapped out a few new songs for a couple of those classics? Yes, of course. But that’s on me – essentially I want to see the Pixies in 1990, the problem being that in that scenario I’m only 8 years old and won’t be aware of their existence for another seven years. But the Pixies in 2019 are still pretty damn good, and far more than a mere nostalgia act.