Last Night: The Pixies at the Hollywood Palladium

Last Night: The Pixies, No Age, at the Hollywood Palladium; November 4, 2009.

Better Than: Watching the Pixies play other notable albums celebrating their 20th anniversaries this year (Girl You Know It's True, Electric Youth, Dr. Feelgood).

Chattiest Pixie: Kim Deal, but not much of a contest, because she was the only one who really spoke to the audience at all.

When the Pixies reunited five years ago, it was like music nerd fan fiction come true, delivering something that never really seemed possible. In the next five years, speculation turned to what the next chapter might be, with on-and-off reports of the band working on a new album never leading to anything but scraps–like wacky 2004 single “Bam Thwok.”

Now it's 2009, and the band isn't looking forward but instead embracing their past; specifically, the 20th anniversary of Doolittle, the kind of album that seems to have the word “seminal” surgically attached to its title. Wednesday night at the sold-out Hollywood Palladium was the first stateside date of what started last month in Europe–the Pixies coming back together to play Doolittle in its entirety, jumping on the “band plays famous album in full and in sequence” trend, but doing it in a distinctly iconoclastic way that you would expect from such an influential alternative rock act.

Instead of charging forward with instantly recognizable Doolittle opener “Debaser,” the band did a song that even many hardcore fans probably didn't recognize, or at least haven't thought of in a while: “Dancing the Manta Ray,” a b-side from the “Monkey Gone to Heaven” single. Then another, “Weird at My School.” Four b-sides in total–songs barely ever played live, either in the band's original incarnation or since reformation–before finally launching into Doolittle proper.

“Do you know what the b-sides are?” bassist Kim Deal asked. “Have you heard them? I had to look them up.”

Doolittle itself proved to be–surprise, surprise!–still really great. Hearing it all in order in a live setting illustrates how truly remarkable of a record it is, with nary a downer in the bunch (well, maybe “Silver,” but that's it). Frank Black–or Black Francis, whatever–can still reproduce the high-pitched squeals on lines like “then God is seven!” as good as ever, and in general the Pixies recreated the album with note-perfect authenticity. There wasn't much room for improvising here, but that's not what people wanted; not the reason why now middle-aged former hipsters brought their kids to experience the album live (the whole album is available on Rock Band, so the kids were probably cool with it).

The band did enhance the experience through clever use of the backing video screen, like displaying (some) lyrics of “Hey” (making it even more sing-alongable), and various lady parts on “Tame.” Deal appeared to be having the most fun with the whole experience (Doolittle is the last Pixies record where she contributed to the songwriting or sang any lead vocals), peppering the sets with jokey comments like “You can't skip 'em if you don't like any of the songs. You have to listen to all of them,” and “Do you guys actually know what song's coming up next? I don't.” 

For the first encore, the Pixies–completed by guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering–did the two Doolittle b-sides they didn't do before: a slowed-down version of “Wave of Mutilation” off the “Here Comes Your Man” single, and “Into the White.” The second encore was a more traditional “here are some songs you definitely know!” affair, including Surfer Rosa's “Where Is My Mind?” and “Gigantic,” two of the closest things the band has to hits.

There are reasons everyone from Radiohead to Nirvana to Weezer to whatever shaky local band of the week cites the Pixies as a major influence, and about 15 of those reasons are on Doolittle. And as it turns out, the band is once again talking about a new album. Hey, if that still doesn't happen, no reason to rule out a Bossanova tour next year.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Doolittle is one of my favorite albums of all time and the Pixies are some of my favorite people to ever exist; I reviewed one of their 2004 reunion shows for another paper here, check it out before that site disappears for good.

Random Detail: There weren't nearly as many fans back in May when Black Francis played Detroit Bar in Costa Mesa with his latest project, Grand Duchy.

By the Way: There are tickets left for both tonight's show and Friday's. Do it.

Set list:
“Dancing the Manta Ray”
“Weird at My School”
“Bailey's Walk”
“Manta Ray”

“Wave of Mutilation”
“I Bleed”
“Here Comes Your Man”
“Monkey Gone to Heaven”
“Mr. Grieves”
“Crackity Jones”
“La La Love You”
“No. 13 Baby”
“There Goes My Gun”
“Gouge Away”

“Wave of Mutilation” (UK Surf)
“Into the White”

Encore two:
“Isla de Encanta”
“Where Is My Mind?”

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