Pixies, Brixton Academy, London
Richard Hawley, O2 Empire, London
Balder, burlier...but Pixies still rattle your corpuscles
Sunday 11 October 2009
Twenty years ago, the big song at the indie disco was about the eyeball-slicing scene in Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou. Nowadays, the big song at the indie disco is about being at the indie disco. And if you think that's progress, then Cookie I think you're "tame".
This is just one reason why Pixies need make no apology for taking their 1989 album, Doolittle, out for an anniversary tour, and why we needn't be ashamed to consider it one of the most thrilling musical events of 2009.
Doolittle was the third Pixies album of five, and marked their commercial and artistic high-water mark. It catches the band just pre-sharkjump. Soon, Pixies would degenerate into cheap sci-fi kitsch, but at this point they were still knocking out torrid two-minute tales of lust and longing, and spinning Biblical stories of Bathsheba and Samson to a flamenco-punk soundtrack.
These balding (well, three out of four) and burly (ditto) Bostonians are more than capable of doing justice to their masterpiece. First, though, they'll tease us with some rarities. "More B-sides!", Kim Deal yells, her perma-grin beaming at us between the slow, sinister screamo-surf of "Bailey's Walk" and "Dance The Manta Ray". No one, as The Dandy Warhols acknowledged, is cooler than Kim Deal. She's also a brilliant bassist within the Pixies remit, often playing the high notes and low notes of her riffs on the same string so you get that satisfying fingertip squeak. When she thumps out the unmistakeable intro to "Debaser" and Black Francis starts to yell, the show begins in earnest.
After all this time, nobody sends the corpuscles coursing like Pixies. The channelled aggression of Joey Santiago's guitars on "Dead" is still astonishing, and screaming along with Black Francis's absurdist verse ("Uriah hit the crapper, the crapper ... dead!") leaves the larynx raw for days afterwards.
Even on an album as great as Doolittle, though, there are one or two poor songs. The silly thrasharound "Crackity Jones", for example, or "Here Comes Your Man". There are interludes of calm – the Spaghetti Western bottleneck blues of "Silver", the vampire lullaby "I Bleed" – but slow does not always equal serene. The most dramatic moment is the godforsaken gospel of "Hey!", with all Brixton chanting "we're chained, we're chained ..." like it's a sudden and simultaneous realisation of the human condition, not merely some lyrics by an old band they used to dig.
The most touching moment, however, comes in a fairly incidental song. As became clear in the loudQUIETloud documentary about Pixies' 2005 comeback, drummer Dave Lovering, who had been quietly earning a living as a magician in the intervening years, relapsed into drug addiction during the tour. Seeing him in fine fettle tonight and taking lead vocal on "La La Love You", is wonderful. Kim comes to the fore for a steamrollering dry-ice-and-spotlights encore of "Into The White", and there's a three-song coda of non-Doolittle material: the insanely frantic "Isla De Encanta" and "Broken Face", and the immortal anthem "Where Is My Mind?", from 1988's Surfer Rosa album. Speaking of which, hey Francis, Kim, Joey and Dave: it's customary to celebrate 21st birthdays too.
Only two albums this year have made me go "wow". One is Journal For Plague Lovers by Manic Street Preachers. The other is Truelove's Gutter by Richard Hawley, the Sheffield troubadour's sixth effort, on which he was given carte blanche by Mute Records to express himself and let the budget go hang.
If you'd told me, back in the Britpop era, that a member of the hopeless Longpigs would be making world-stopping music, I'd have laughed in your face, but Truelove's Gutter is a stunner, taking the tiny details of a moribund love affair and pumping them to epic scale.
Long-term fans may be impatient with a set dominated by the new material, but such songs as "Soldier On" are so gripping that, even at pushing seven minutes, they don't pall.
In his suave Teddy-boy drape suit and Brylcreemed quiff, a Gretsch slung around his neck, Richard Hawley couldn't look more classic, and that's exactly how he sounds as he channels the handsome ghosts of Scott Walker, Glen Campbell, Roy Orbison and post-'68 Elvis.
And, with spooky synchronicity, Hawley is joined for one new song – a gentle, intimate country number called "Weary" – by none other than Lisa Marie Presley. Perhaps Hawley can succeed where others, from Malcolm McLaren to Linda Perry, have failed, and provide the King's daughter with musical material worthy of her genetic heritage.
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