Show Review: Pixies with Rain Machine at The Fox Oakland, 11/8/2009

by Jonathan Pirro on November 9, 2009

Here Comes Your Men (and Woman!) - The Pixies

Here Comes Your Men (and Woman!) - The Pixies

It’s been quite some time since the Fox Theater in Oakland had a show that generated such interest that it sold out within a month, and also multiplied itself to take place over an additional two nights. At the time of this writing, the first of those two extra nights is also completely sold out, and the second one is getting pretty close. What sort of band would have the magnitude to sell out the Fox Theater for three nights in a row? In May, the Allman Brothers Band did it; in mid-September it was Further, the new Grateful Dead project, and in a week, it will likely be all three nights of Widespread Panic. So, for this case, it must have been another famous jam band with thousands of followers. Right?

Wrong. Tonight, and for the next two nights, the Fox is owned by four Bostonians who helped write the book on modern alternative music: the Pixies, who are going to spend each night playing their landmark album Doolittle, along with its B-sides and an encore of their own devising.

When you have a band as big as the Pixies, with a following as long and as dedicated to the musicians as they are to their music, you end up having to find an interesting and somewhat well-followed band to open for them. Tonight’s performance began with the arrival of Kyp Malone, guitarist and co-songwriter of TV On The Radio, and his solo project, Rain Machine. Mostly absent were the soul-punk melodies that make TV On The Radio so irresistible; however, a deeper, fuller sound could be heard, along with the intensity of a jamming live band and just enough experimentalism to keep the indie rock kids happy. The band’s set was punctuated by Kyp’s numerous remarks — apparently he was still, a bit, in shock about this — about being honored to open for the Pixies. It was, sadly, far too short of a set for my liking, and I only make that comment because it was so very, very good; the ending song was full of sweeping majesty, and I was once again kicking myself for not going to see this band headline at the Independent a few weeks ago.

When the hour of 9pm arrived, the massive LED screen at the back of the stage flickered to life, displaying a sepia-toned image of a dialog card used in a silent film. Immediately following this card was, in fact, a silent film: Un Chien Andalou, the 16-minute surrealist film of 1929 that Salvador Dali created alongside Spanish director Luis Buñuel. The film is well known to Pixies fans, as its title is used in the chorus of Doolittle‘s opener, “Debaser”, and singer Frank Black has cited the film as a major influence on the band’s work. As the animation continued, the house lights fell, smoke was expelled violently from fog machines littered about the stage, and at long last, four silhouettes made their way across the stage. The ecstatic peals of applause and cheering had their confirmation: The Pixies had arrived at last.

No doubt expecting the anticipation for the opening notes of “Debaser”, the band decided to change things up a bit by opening with Doolittle‘s B-sides: “Dancing The Manta Ray”, thus, was the opener of the night, the band shrouded in shadow with soft yellow light hanging over them. Three more pieces were performed, with bassist Kim Deal commenting about the beauty of the theater and the challenge of learning the B-sides again, between the songs; after finishing “Manta Ray”, there were several long moments and an eerie silence before the lights snapped back on. The massive LED screen behind the band was lit bright blue, with the word “DOOLITTLE” written across it in white, as the opening riffs of “Debaser” snarled across the theater. It wasn’t long before the entire audience of the Fox Theater was bellowing out the lyrics right along with singer Frank Black; the show had finally come to its “official” starting point.

The elaborate screen that made up the backdrop of the band’s stage set played several other animations and film clips, each pertaining to the song being played at the time; in addition, there was a set of four massive lights, looking for all the world like Chinese paper lanterns, connected with a long set of paper tubing. While these remained dormant for most of the set — simply glowing and changing color in time to the beat — the beginning of “I Bleed” saw the lanterns turning bright red and moving up and down above the band, each moving independent of the others (although it “pulled them” with it, to a degree), while slow animations of hemoglobin danced across the screen. Once the “regular” album had started, the band was actually thrown into light and color, rather than remain in the stark shadows they had hidden under while playing the opening B-sides.

The greatest response garnered from the crowd came from the album’s 3 singles — the aforementioned “Debaser”, as well as “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone To Heaven” — as well as the punk-minded furious burst of energy that was “Crackity Jones”. Upon the completion of the album’s closer, “Gouge Away”, the Pixies came to the front of the stage for a set of bows, with the screen behind them showing its own set of footage of the band waving, clapping, and bowing on a previously recorded occasion. Several minutes passed before the band returned for their first encore, which was for a polarized combination of songs. A slow, groovy, surf-rock version of “Wave Of Mutilation” was followed by the final B-side of the Doolitte days, the abrasive, wall-of-noise “Into The White”. This final piece saw an almost-hurricane of machine fog erupt and enshroud the band onstage; as the notes of the song grew louder and longer, the screen flickered and dance with almost epileptic precision as the entire stage dissolved into a hailstorm of feedback and ghostly haze.

The band’s second encore was also marked with the return of the house lights, as if the engineering crew of the Theater might have missed the memo about a second encore; however, they stayed fully lit as the Pixies kicked off the end of its set with their arguably most well-known song, “Where Is My Mind?”, which garnered the largest cheer yet heard from the crowd. They finished the night with two more of their early pieces: “Gigantic” from their debut album Surfer Rosa, and “Caribou”, the opening piece of their first release, Come On Pilgrim. As the last “ooooooo”s of the latter piece faded behind the impending wall of cheers, the band waved goodbye one last time, and departed, the stage lights disappearing for good into the shadows.

This was my first chance to see the Pixies in concert, something I have been desiring to do for the past 8 years or so. I was introduced to them through listening to “Where Is My Mind?”, both as a closer to the movie Fight Club and as a cover song by the English rock band Placebo, and once I got my hands on Doolittle I was completely hooked. That being said, it was an incredible treat to hear the album performed in its entirety, start to finish, by the band live on stage, along with the B-sides (which I am significantly less familiar with) and the beloved favorites from their early releases. While there was nothing at the show that broke new ground or changed the way that I perceived concerts, it was still one fantastic night and one long-awaited experience — and one which I’ll be repeating for the next two nights at the Fox Theater in Oakland.

The Pixies' setlist, minus the second encore

The Pixies' setlist, minus the second encore

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex January 7, 2010 at 8:10 am

Hi, do you happen to have a copy of that setlist from the show? If so, would love to get it from you! 🙂 Please email me at tatal@aol.com

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Layton Johnston May 10, 2011 at 1:07 pm

I can’t wait to see them live! Hope I get a chance someday… either way, have y’all heard that they’re thinking about releasing another album? http://www.ourstage.com/blog/2011/5/9/pixies-reunite-indie-kids-rejoice-blogosphere-explodes

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