Pixies + Sunflower Bean @ MTELUS – 27th September 2017

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Pixies montreal

How do young kids hear about the Pixies? It seems baffling. Yet somehow these little under-developed mini fans manage to merge their way into the crowd – one that I expected to be numbered by crusty curmudgeons like myself. Withholding my music snob instincts, it was slightly amazing to see so many younger fans showing up to the legends of alternative rock.

Pixies montreal mtellus

Among hardened hipsters and elderly grunge rockers of a bygone era, these little sprites were speckled in the crowd, making it seem almost like we were at an edgy new scene – not one that I expected to be well, well past the drinking age. Passing through your vision like some fantastic creature, these ghosts catching the classic grunge legends on a Wednesday made you almost feel like the 90s were upon us again.

The Pixies were amazing, but first, the opener – NYC’s Sunflower Bean – proved entertainingly fresh. The Brooklyn group debuted their first full record in 2016, “Human Ceremony” and have been buzzing ever since. Tonight, the trio never lacked for energy, and front-woman Julia Cumming gave us a rare combination of heavy jams with sweet whispering melodies. Her voice carried the room, and whatever was left got picked up by guitarist Nick Kivlen with Jacob Faber on drums.

One of their featured songs, “Easier Said” really hit the chimes right. There was something majestic in the bittersweet melody. Cumming’s vocal talent shone while some combination of the ornate interior of MTelus and the crisp red lightning put us under a spell. The crossover aspect of Bean’s intensively textured jams and the Pixies’ penchant for similar delayed, strained outros made you almost get the impression that new groups like this could successfully be passed a torch to carry.

Pixies guitarist

The legendary Pixies then hit the stage, making us all feel simultaneously energized and a bit old. The hey-day for the trail-blazing group form Boston is twenty years past, including the interloping period when the group was disbanded – what could they bring to the fans that hadn’t already been said? The set began with “Wave of Mutilation,” and as Francis Black waxed poetic about meeting crustaceans I wondered exactly how truly bizarre some of the lyrics of the band were, and how unseemly it would be for any contemporary audience to want to pick up these tunes.

Pixies francis black

Apparently the youth of Montreal did not get the memo – impervious to esoteric lyrics and perhaps even time itself, they soon were launching themselves and other fans off their feet dead centre stage. Vamos even saw some crowd-surfers once Joey Santiago started his guitar shreds in earnest. While some Pixies’ material like Magdalena or Subbacultcha left the room a bit flat, reaching into the old goodies from Doolittle and Surferosa turned everything around. Even recent songs like Um Chagga Lagga that simply had a decent moshable beat had the crowd going.

Occasional tunes between the classic ones did have some difficulty. It was palpable when the crowd stopped moving during the combo of All I Think About Now / Ed is Dead / Winterlong (Neil Young Cover) – and lyrics like “I remember when we were happy” seemed almost hilariously self-conscious about the drop in energy. But then another cover, the fan-favourite ‘Head On’ by Jesus Mary Chain, super-charged with David Lovering completely exploding on the drums, completely re-started everyone, and more so, we all knew the lyrics.

Pixies montreal metropolis

I could probably list about a half-dozen songs that Montreal decided to sing with the Pixies in the MTelus theatre: Caribou, Debaser, Gouge Away, Hey, Monkey Gone to Heaven, Where is My Mind. The final quarter of the epic 33-song set was populated with the classics that everyone knew and shouted aloud. It felt warm and hearteningly intimate. Fans old and new were singing their hearts out at the Boston band. The final ghostly alto murmurs of “Where is my Mind” nearly drowned out Paz Lenchantin singing past her bass. The only shame was that Francis did not let the crowd continue it for the last goosebump-inducing outro of the song.

Instead the Pixies gathered front and centre for what was a kind of semi-exit / smoke machine disappearance act. Perhaps their schedule was rushed, since they barely left the stage for the single song encore, instead simply allowing the fog machines to do their work, and then follow up with a visually fitting “Into the White” to end the night.

It was a touching set, with an active crowd that lingered well afterwards, either talking on the floor or out on St Catherine. Despite the fellow-feeling among so many fans, an explanation for the vast multi-generational appeal still eludes me. I cannot pretend to understand why or how the youth at the show are motivated to listen to this group that I associate with dinosaurs like, well, myself. At the time they came out, the nihilistic surfer-rock of Pilgrim and Surferosa was ground-breaking, but are they still seen this way now? Are the Pixies an indie-equivalent of looming classic figures, like a hipster’s Led Zeppelin, a soulster’s Marvin Gaye, defunct though unignorable? I wish I could demand each fan under a certain age fill out a survey to find out how they discovered the band.

On the bus back home, I spied another passenger perusing their pics of the concert, and asked, a bit bluntly, “How did you young kids learn about the Pixies?” She turned out to be 29, but that’s another story…

Pixies montreal frank black

Pixies MTelus Montreal crowd
Photo above – David Loach

Setlist:

Wave of Mutilation
Classic Masher
Magdalena 318
Subbacultcha
Cactus
Brick Is Red
Break my body
Nimrods Son
Um Chagga Lagga
Broken Face
Crackity Jones
Bel Esprit
Something Against You
Monkey Gone to Heaven
Caribou
Dead
Ana
Silver Snail
All the Saints
Vamos
Winterlong (Neil Young cover)
Ed Is Dead
All I think about now
Head On (The Jesus and Mary Chain cover)
River Euphrates
Head Carrier
Might as Well Be Gone
Gouge Away
Hey
Debaser
Wave Of Mutilation-Reprise
Where Is My Mind?
Into the White

Review – David Loach
Photos – Steve Gerrard

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