Concert Review: Pixies – Spark Arena, March 6, 2020

Pixies brought their Come On Pilgrim… it’s Surfer Rosa show to Auckland’s Spark Arena last night, mesmerising a nostalgia-drunk crowd with a stunning performance of both their 1987 EP and 1988 debut album before tail-ending their set with a rapid-fire encore of fan favourites. Read Oxford Lamoureaux‘s review here.

Nostalgia-inducing full-album performances seem to be the flavour of the decade for a great number of incredible, influential bands lately, and admittedly I find them somewhat hit-and-miss in their success. Don’t tell that to alt-rock, lyrically surreal legends, Pixies, however, who last night performed an absolute dream-fest of a set to an enamoured crowd at Auckland’s Spark Arena.

With the fully opened Spark Arena barely a quarter full, Auckland locals, The Beths, opened with a half-hour support set and wasted zero time in making the attending crowd thankful they arrived early. Blending high-energy riffs, thumping drum beats, and beautiful, bleeding guitar solos over lightning lyrics, The Beths balanced their set with gorgeously authentic crowd addresses.

It was the kind of set I could easily imagine at Whammy Bar, with lead singer and guitarist, Elizabeth Stokes, taking drinks between songs from a glass at the base of her microphone stand, and spitting out dry, self-deprecating, but unbelievably endearing promos between songs. The Beths (that’s three times now) are a band you simply can’t help but fall in love with, and I was thrilled to see them captivate and energise the crowd from start to finish.

Following a half-hour intermission and a video-introduction memorial to Pixies album-art designer, Vaughan Oliver (1957 – 2019), the Pixies took to the stage through an unmistakable strings cover of Where Is My Mind?, and an eager roar from the bustling and packed stadium crowd.

Diving straight into the opening track of their 1987 EP Come On Pilgrim, it took only a moment of booming drums and Malagueña-guitar to sink the hooks of nostalgia into the crowd with Caribou. As the filthy, gritty sound of their opening number faded into unified applause, and the acoustic guitar and distorted electric wails of Vamos filled the arena, it was clear this wasn’t just a tacked-on gimmick tour, but instead a musical wormhole to a time three decades earlier.

As the set continued through the rapid-fire punk riff of Isla De Encanta, to the distorted acoustic guitar and whining feedback of Ed Is Dead, that raw, unfiltered early sound felt overwhelmingly genuine and authentic; this wasn’t a band trying to repackage their early work, but one recreating the same energy and messy enjoyment of a grunge-alt-rock gig cemented in the early ‘90s.

Closing their first album performance with the wild, harsh vocals of I’ve Been Tired and launching into the sickeningly gorgeous bass of Bone Machine, it was a rare occasion where I wanted to throw away my notes, dangerously leap from the balcony of the arena, and allow myself to be swallowed up by the pulsating mass of fans in the floor section below.

The manic punk screams and fragmented drum beat of Something Against You led into Broken Face and the dreamy, stoned vibe of Gigantic, before the slow-building guitar solo of River Euphrates rang out against a vintage blur of graffiti on the stadium screen. The opening notes of everyone’s favourite nihilistic soundtrack, Where Is My Mind?, unsurprisingly saw the stadium erupt into high howls of unified lyrical chants, however it was the extended performance of Vamos which felt most impressive.

Following a brief introduction by lead vocalist, Black Francis, on ‘taking the solo to new places’, and a hypnotising opening in David Lovering’s bass-heavy drum beat, Vamos saw lead guitarist, Joey Santiago marvel the audience with a wild, inventive guitar solo. Using everything from his own hat, psychic twirls of his fingers, and a perfect baton-pass of a drum stick from Lovering, it was both a psychedelic trip of sound and breathtaking spectacle of musical talent.

Throwing full commitment to the performance of the 1988 debut album, Surfer Rosa, Francis and recent-addition to the lineup, Paz Lenchantin, recreated the background snippet of ‘You Fucking Die’ before closing out the performance with I’m Amazed and Brick Is Red. It would have been so easy to end the set there, to only stick to the listed set, but instead the crowd were treated with a back-to-back encore of some of Pixies’ most memorable and beloved fan-favourites.

Beginning with Debaser, the group barely took a breath before firing directly into Wave of Mutilation, Head On, and Tame. So simply beautiful was their initial set, I felt a twang of expectant guilt at wanting to hear my ultimate Pixies love-affair number, Hey, and matching joy as the initial treacle-thick bass line announced its arrival.

Closing out their concert with Gouge Away, and a strangely respectful departing of the crowd in place of ‘one more song’ chants, last night’s performance undoubtedly brought that very same feeling to much of the audience; a genuine trip back in time to experience Pixies’ earliest album, and a wish-fulfilment encore featuring a selection of crowd-favourite numbers.

Last night’s concert was that special rarity in nostalgia-performance; not a revival, but an authentic recreation, and one which included something for everyone, while offering a collection of moments which would mean everything to all of us. Part tribute, part alt-punk rock performance, and pure, perfect Pixies – precisely the way we’d like to remember them.

~Oxford Lamoureaux

Pixies Setlist
From Come on Pilgrim
Isla De Encanta
Ed Is Dead
The Holiday Song
Nimrod’s Son
I’ve Been Tired
Levitate Me

From Surfer Rosa
Bone Machine
Break My Body
Something Against You
Broken Face
River Euphrates
Where Is My Mind?
Tony’s Theme
Oh My Golly!
I’m Amazed
Brick Is Red
Wave of Mutilation
Head On
Gouge Away