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Search The Line of Best Fit

Pixies - Castlefield Bowl, Manchester 10/07/14

14 July 2014, 12:51 | Written by Joe Goggins

Pixies aren’t doing things by halves on this particular European jaunt - a quick look at their schedule will certainly sink any accusations of laziness - but this is still surely the only date they’ll play surrounded by Roman ruins. Manchester’s Castlefield was a fort thousands of years ago, and the amphitheatre - which sits unused most of the year round - is now penned in on one side by one of the city’s great beacons of cultural enlightenment, the Museum of Science and Industry, and on the other by the hideous monument to twenty-first century corporatism that is the Beetham Tower.

The elephant in the room - or the bowl, rather - is of course the absence of Kim Deal, who we can now assume heard some of the material that would go on to make up amalgamated comeback LP Indie Cindy and ran as fast as her legs could carry her. Judging by the capacity crowd tonight, her departure hasn’t had a serious effect on the band’s pulling power, even if it has an impact musically - there’s a gigantic “Gigantic”-shaped hole in the setlist - and in terms of crowd interaction; Black Francis says virtually nothing tonight, and you can’t help but think that Deal, with her perma-smile and appetite for light-heartedness, was as important to the band as a conduit for the audience’s energy as she was for her bass-playing.

The tracklist is otherwise excellent; whilst purists would probably have rather heard a little more from Bossanova and Trompe le Monde, there’s no question that there’s a major lean towards the strongest Pixies material, with no fewer than ten tracks from Doolittle aired. New songs are kept to a merciful minimum, too, with some of Indie Cindy’s most heinous offenders - “What Goes Boom”, “Blue-Eyed Hexe” - missing entirely. It has you wondering, in fact, if they’ve already figured out what the rest of us knew straight away; that theirs is a catalogue that should never have been sullied with fresh efforts in the first place. There’s a timidity, almost a resignation, to the delivery of the likes of “Magdalena 318” and “Greens and Blues”, as if the band are all too aware that those are not what this rowdy crowd have assembled to hear.

Elsewhere, there’s moments that have you remembering what a dazzling catalogue Pixies have; as an opening one-two, they rip through “U-Mass” and “Debaser” with an aggression and vigour that belies how sick they must be of playing them. On “Bone Machine”, too, Joey Santiago’s iconic guitar line fizzes, and new bassist Paz Lenchantin is a step up, vocally, from Kim Shattuck, who was fired late last year after a stage dive she made was allegedly deemed an egregious piece of showboating, unbefitting a band of Pixies’ sophistication.

Elsewhere, a handful of deeper cuts are carried off impressively; the exercise in loud-quiet dynamics that is “Tame” is predictably furious, whilst “Gouge Away” oozes menace and “La La Love You”’s pop silliness is a lovely touch mid-set. Elsewhere, though, classic tracks are relayed in decidedly more awkward fashion; “Wave of Mutilation” sounds tired - really tired - and Francis’ vocals are a little coarser than they need to be on “Caribou”. Saddest of all, on this score, is “Where Is My Mind?”; perhaps its the lack of Deal delivering that iconic backing vocal, but there’s a lethargy, a lack of urgency, that sees perhaps the finest song in the Pixies canon drift by uneventfully.

I would say they’re at a crossroads, but I’m not sure there’s any path that’s particularly clear once they finally make it off the road. Further new music would be desperately ill-advised. More tours of this length, and they risk saturating the market. If they opt for the latter, they’ll need to figure out how to maintain a high level of intensity throughout, and do all of their material justice, as opposed to just some of it; tonight’s show is enjoyable, sure, but uneven too.

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