"We fucked that up," said bassist Kim Deal as the first song of their set fumbled to a halt at their sold out Disco Rodeo show in Raleigh Sunday night. "We're gonna start with something simpler," Frank Black said after abandoning "Bone Machine." Black and company promptly re-arranged the set list, pulling tunes apparently at random from their considerable back catalogue. "Cactus" kicked off the restarted show, followed by "U Mass," with lyrics that seemed tailored for this audience: "We're not just kids/ To say the least/ We got ideas/ To us that's dear/ Oh kiss the world/ Oh kiss the sky/ Oh kiss my ass/ Oh let it rock."
The band members were probably the oldest people in attendance. Most of those faces in the sea of bobbing heads looked young enough to have been in diapers when Black wrote and the Pixies performed most of these tunes for the first time in the mid-'80s. But they weren't just there to soak up the ambience. They seemed to know all the lyrics, singing along on every song, with a few brave souls trying to dance in the crowd packed shoulder to shoulder in the sweltering club.
For such a powerful sound, the Pixies have no stage presence. They all just stand flat-footed and deliver. The only action taking place is courtesy of drummer David Lovering, who's lit up like a carnival ride with neon spots and backlit by airplane landing lights, giving the impression of an interstellar pilot frantically flailing at dials and switches, trying to land his spacecraft. Looking like a rock 'n' roll Buddha, Black stands nailed in place, sandaled feet planted firmly on either side of the mic, roaring out his tales of alienation and outer space odysseys.
In the energy department, opening act the Bellrays stole the show, but the crowd held back on their enthusiasm. Perhaps it was because the young audience wasn't used to seeing a sassy, big-haired soul diva strutting the stage, backed by a three-piece punk/psychedelic/soul/funk band. "These people are from the South--they understand this shit," vocalist Lisa Kekaula said to the band after getting the crowd to follow along on some old-school soul call and response. But that was the only time the crowd really got involved--they listened politely, but appeared to be conserving their energy.
They gave it up for the Pixies as the band worked through their back pages with "Caribou," "Vamos" and "The Holiday Song" from Come on Pilgrim. Doolittle and Surfer Rosa were represented with eight and nine cuts respectively. Bossanova was ignored entirely and Trompe Le Monde only got three.
The fact that the sound was so loud and distorted that the vocals were muddled didn't seem to bother fans, many of whom were aware that if you couldn't understand it on the spot, you could always get a live recording of the night's show to take home. A two-CD set was available after the show or by visiting the band's Web site for the limited edition discs.
The godfathers of grunge are back--older, louder, punkier, and better than ever.