Pixies boost

Joe Costello is at Birmingham’s Forum watching the Pixies.

A difficult personal choice had to be made as this show clashed with Half Man Half Biscuit playing in Leamington on the same night, but having seen them most recently in London in January and around 20 times in total over the years compared to a mere eight for the Pixies, there was only ever going to be one winner in the battle for my gig affections.

Given the date, a small part of me had hoped that for one night only, the headline act might consider rebranding as Leprechauns, but it was not to be and a handful of attendees in foam Guinness hats was as Irish as it got for Boston’s finest. Had they done so, it would perhaps have been in keeping with the shifting character of Dale End in the intervening 34 years since their first appearance at this venue. From the Hummingbird to the Forum, Sara Moon’s to The Peaky Blinder, The Pen & Wig to Scruffy Murphy’s and the band themselves are not the same fourpiece who took to the same stage to promote Doolittle back in April 1989 as the band that returned with Doggerel.

Coincidentally this was also this correspondent’s first visit to the venue since the age of 16. I remember little of the occasion beyond taking a tumble in the mosh pit like the novice I was and that the cost of the ticket was around a tenth of what I paid this time. Fellow veterans of the Menagerie, Sensateria and gigs from that era and beyond will be saddened to learn that the carpet has finally succumbed to the damage caused by 10 million pounds of sludge from Newtown and New Oscott and has been replaced by a more easily maintained, wipe clean surface.

Nostalgia suffered another blow when the band took to the stage and opened the show with Wave of Mutilation and River Euphrates, the decibel level so disappointingly low it was possible to conduct a conversation with my companion at regular volume to relocate to a louder vantage point. My rose-tinted glasses swear blind the sound was better than this when the venue was a regular destination for me prior to the Academy’s relocation to the site of the Dome or, if you’re particularly old, the Night Out on Bristol Street, in 2009.

We settled upon a suitable spot a little closer to the front and therefore also a little closer to the speaker stack in time for the cover of Jesus and Mary Chain’s Head On and my enjoyment levels increased from that point on as the bar also cleared sufficiently to further roll back the years with some cans of Red Stripe, sold at an outrageous markup but at least it was served cold.

Over the course of a set lasting the best part of two hours, approximately a third of it was derived from their post reformation recordings and the greater percentage being crowd pleasers from their late 80s/early 90s 4AD pomp. This ratio appears to be the norm with (for the want of a better descriptor) heritage bands, keen to remain productive but pragmatic enough to recognise what the majority of the audience have come to see. Refreshing my memory via Setlist FM, it’s perhaps telling that only one song from each of 2019’s Beneath the Eyrie and 2016’s Head Carrier was performed here having made up about a third of the show in their respective promotional tours in those years.

A break in the proceedings occurred midway through as the band announced that they were being forced to take a five-minute break when the barrier at the front of the stage began to give way and required some running repairs. Pperhaps it was just not built to withstand the rigours of a middle-aged mosh pit with its attendant middle-aged spread.

When they do return, it was for a reprise of Ana, Black Francis declaring the rendition performed a little earlier unsatisfactory, and these two interjections were the only two moments of audience interaction over the course of the evening, but you don’t come to see the Pixies for the between-song banter.

This was not the only song we heard twice, with Wave of Mutilation getting a second airing, this time the leisurely paced UK Surf version before closing the show with Where Is My Mind? and another cover, Neil Young’s Winterlong. They depart without an encore and without playing two of their most well known and popular songs, Gigantic and Monkey Gone to Heaven and there can be few acts capable of omitting songs of such calibre and still have delivered an outstanding night’s entertainment.