Pristine skies are something of a rarity in Dublin. June 29th however, was one of those welcome occasions when the weather yielded to neither cloud nor night cool. Ham Sandwich, enthused by the showing in of their idols, were adorable. The sun shone. When night came Arcade Fire filled it with light and sound. Guitars screamed. Voices soared and crowds echoed lyrics excitedly. Indeed, on June 29th we were all excited. Well, almost all of us. The Pixies bored and looked bored with only hard-core Pixie fans staying attentive throughout.
Their flawless but sultry performance suffered from a certain rheumatic aura. Hit followed hit. The crowd, populated mainly, but not solely by those of a certain age, swarmed stage ward after Ham Sandwich to be met with trophy number after trophy number. “Hey” and “Where is my mind?” had us on our feet yearning to name our own consciousness while turning from tones of milky Irish to freckly red. In between the crowd lost interest and The Pixies didn’t seem to care. Younger crowd members, there to see Ham Sandwich and Arcade Fire, were given a lesson in rock’s cool detachment. What else might you want? Engagement with the crowd? Maybe. Deviation from a jaded performance that has clearly been repeated countless times? Certainly!
The Pixies have a scant reputation in terms of crowd interaction. They bang out song after song regardless of those listening. This is their style. Knowing that however, does little to prevent the onset of disinterest. Cooing to “Caribou” is one thing but swaying jauntily to “Here Comes Your Man” when even Frank Black has openly expressed boredom is another. Watching one of the most impacting bands of the late twentieth century churn out anthem renditions of their most influential music is a little grinding.
Still, close your eyes and you can hear their influence echo down through the past thirty years. From Nirvana and The Libertines across the spectrum to Arcade Fire where indie meets rock, bands pull their roots from The Pixies’ exploration of punk, psychedelic rock, surrealism and old fashioned rock and roll. For this reason alone,The Pixies should never stop touring.
Boring to watch they may be, but we need The Pixies. Metarock, gigs where music is mediated by our mobiles, has spoiled us. We want bands that look good in pictures and cool as hashtags. The Pixie’s exposure to crowds whose attention is split between the event, social media and the music makes their performance seem something of an historical exhibition piece. In light of movement away from pared down rock towards roller coaster concerts dishing up explorations of light and sound, modest displays where music speaks for itself are necessary. They remind us what raw brilliance sounds like by itself.
These occasions, pristine but boring are likely to become much less frequent in the future. Unlike Arcade Fire, we will never witness The Pixies donning a Bono or Pope head to rip up a picture of Miley Cyrus with the crowd accompanying a flat screen Sinead O Connor singing “Nothing Compares to you”. The Pixies will never blast the stage in white light and release confetti in a million pieces into the night. The Pixies, in this respect, are a much greener band than Arcade Fire. However, metarock is here to stay and The Pixies have not gone away. Not yet anyway.
We now occupy an odd space where we can still remember gigs without all the tricks of the contemporary festival. But we expect more. As crowds we expect light, sound, confetti and to be teased by both band and music. Standing between us and the band, our phones act as an immediate channel to the wonderful world of social media. Delights Arcade Fire and their ilk deliver are expected when parting with hefty admission prices. Nonetheless, The Pixies’ influence will last long after Arcade Fire’s capacity to draw huge crowds has diminished. We need The Pixies to bore us so that we know the raw enjoyment of rock before it disappears altogether. And when The Pixies are gone? Then ” I guess we’ll just have to adjust!”