Over at the Hammerstein Ballroom, as part of a three night stand, The Pixies performed the entirety of their seminal ’89 album Doolittle. On paper, this seemed to me brilliant, the kind of felicitous idea I might dream about but never actually expect to see happen. Of course, having seen the Pogues reform, Sonic Youth run through every track of Daydream Nation and a couple other who’d-a-thunk-it concert events in the past few years, I’m growing more accustomed to seeing these things realized. Maybe that accounts for why I feel the show only partly delivered.
Anyone who’s seen the Pixies live, whether during their heyday or at the more recent reunion shows, can attest to their lack of stage presence. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily the worst thing in the world. It worked well enough for The Strokes after all. But whereas that group seems to have had a band meeting re: how to affect the most stoic version of cool possible, the Pixies appear simply bored if not vaguely irritated with one another. I understand that these four don’t get along (every student of the band’s history knows that Black Francis once famously broke up the group via fax), but they’ve been back on the road together for a while now, enough that one might imagine them doing a better job of faking it.
No such luck. The Pixies took the stage at 9, did a no-frills, workmanlike job with the songs, and were outta there by 10:30. Everything sounded great, I have to admit, and Frank Black’s voice was as sterling as ever, but nobody on stage seemed to be having any more than a ho-hum time, and they were little interested in the audience. None of them spoke at all except bassist Kim Deal, and even then it was just to ask who was coming again on subsequent nights. She might have just come right out and said “We’re doing this for the money,” but she didn’t need to. It was already pretty clear. During a performance of Here Comes Your Man, separate images of the band members enjoying themselves and pleasantly bopping their heads up and down were projected behind the group, as if trying to inject a more amiable tone into a stage show that was otherwise stiff as rebar. It didn’t work. See for yourself.