Thursday, March 25, 2010

Seeing People Play Music Is Fun To Do

When I heard the Pixies were coming to Australia, I flipped out a little bit. I read the details of the tour, getting more and more excited. They were not only coming to a place where I would get to see them play but they were going to play all of Doolittle, in order. 

"Holy shit," I thought, "Doolittle is not only my favourite album, but the one with the most personal significance to me. It's like this tour was custom designed to suit my Pixies needs!"

But then I logged onto the internet and saw every indie kid I knew saying that exact thing. Doolittle was EVERYONE'S favourite album. It is a joke I've heard a few times from Pixies fans that the band could release a new Best Of and it would just be Doolittle with a different cover.

When I arrived at the venue, I realised that it wasn't just the indie kids who were excited about this. While waiting for the doors to open, I cast my eye over the crowd. I can honestly say that I have never seen a more diverse group of people all so excited for the same band. People of all ages, representing every musical and societal subculture you can name bumped shoulders trying to get to the merch stand.

Sometimes when you go to a really important gig, there are a few people there that you wish had stayed home. I remember when I saw Belle & Sebastian, it was a huge deal for me. In the years I'd been listening to them they'd never once come to Australia. Then in 2006, they finally came to promote the Life Pursuit. The nearest show to me was in Sydney and I even had to leave a university exam early to catch the last train that would get me there in time. Luckily it was a multiple choice linguistics exam which involved having to correct the grammatical errors in set sentences. I was done in about fifteen minutes.

I was ridiculously excited. We had standing tickets and ended up staking out a spot about a metre from the stage. It was amazing, being so close to this band who had been so influential on my music tastes. The only problem was this group of awful girls. There is a type of person who goes to gigs with the strange need to make themselves the centre of attention. It's a level of narcissism that gives me no end of the shits, especially when it's a band I've loved for that long. Everyone else has paid to see the band, not you being a tool. But these girls. They got Stuart Murdoch's attention between songs and cried out that they wanted to come up on stage. He laughed it off at first, but they persisted. Murdoch has quite a good sense of humour so he giggled and told them they could come up for a song if they wanted, but they had to act it out. They squealed and pulled themselves up in front of the crowd. Asking to get onstage with one of your idols is one thing, I can understand the appeal of that. The problem is that these girls had clearly only listened to the most recent album and jumped on the bandwagon. And it's fine if you want to go to a gig in that situation, I just don't understand why this type feels the insatiable need to draw attention to themselves. You see them all the time, trying for some reason to act like they are the number one loyal fan, screaming when the one song they know the words to comes on. If people seeing you enjoy the band is more important to you than actually enjoying the band, kindly stay home next time. It's obnoxious. 

When the girls were on stage, Murdoch made a joke.

"What would you do if I started playing the Chalet Lines or something?" he said with a smirk. The crowd burst out laughing, knowing that this particular song opens with the line 'He raped me in the Chalet Lines' and continues along that vein. But the girls on stage? Blank looks.

Ok, I thought. That's fine. Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like A Peasant was in no way their most popular album, I could see how that reference could slip through. But then the band started playing Judy and the Dream of Horses. If you are a Belle & Sebastian fan, you know that song. It was from one of their most critically acclaimed, influential early albums and it's a beautiful song. The crowd went wild to hear it but the girls on stage who were supposed to be acting it out had obviously never heard it in their life. They didn't have a clue what was going on and Stuart Murdoch was loving it. He played it slower, repeating lines when he wanted to see them struggle to act them out and laughing to himself when the girls made strange horsey gestures, having no clue what the song was about.

Admittedly, it was pretty funny and Murdoch approached the situation in the best way possible. But more than that, it was annoying. This was a band I had been waiting with baited breath to see for a long time, and these jerks had picked up one album and decided that they needed to go to the gig of the band that very rarely comes to Australia and make it all about themselves. 

Luckily, there was none of that at the Pixies. It was something that was really noticeable about the crowd - this gig was extremely meaningful for every single person in attendance. There was no-one I could see that was there for any reason that couldn't be expressed by the phrase 'It's the motherfriggin Pixies'.

And it really was amazing. They opened by playing a bunch of b-sides, silhouetted in fog. I was in the seats up the top (not brave enough to face being crushed in the standing room) and it was a strange and wonderful thing to see unfold. When the band came on stage, a sea of phone screens appeared in the crowd. People were taking photos, filming bits of songs and then putting their devices away. But for the duration of the gig, as soon as one turned off, one on the other side of the crowd would turn on. The effect was a sea of dancing, intermittent lights appearing randomly throughout the crowd. I liked it. 

The crowd lapped up every moment, but it was when the first few chords of Debaser started playing that people started seriously losing their shit. They played through the album as if they'd never spent any time apart. The songs still had the quality of the recorded versions but the live performance added a whole new element of raw sound. Even though it's not my favourite song on the album, Tame was a huge highlight for me simply because of the way it sounded being shouted across the Thebarton Theatre by Frank Black, whose voice has gotten more intense if anything.

I'm not going to describe every song in detail. All you really need to know is that it was good enough to procure two separate standing ovations. Before the second encore, it seemed like something went wrong. There was a unusually long gap in the music while the stage was invisible through the intense amount of fog that they'd used. It could well have been that there was too much fog and no-one could see anything, because they played the last few songs with the house lights on. This meant that for their closing song (Where Is My Mind, as if it was ever going to be anything else), I had the strange experience of being able to see the faces of every other member of the crowd. People were closing their eyes, swaying to themselves. People were dancing madly in the aisles, not giving a fuck what anyone else thought of them. People were grabbing each other, staring at the stage in awe.

That was when I realised that this was a defining moment in the lives of every single person here. A once in a lifetime experience, seeing the Pixies playing what was probably their favourite album, one they assumed they would never get to see performed. Every one of these people was from a dramatically different background to the person next to them, but they were all experiencing the exact same thing.

This did lead me to start thinking about how the music of the Pixies could create universal harmony a la the Wyld Stallions in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, but that's not something I need to go into. You must admit though that if one band were going to do that, it would be the Pixies, right?

-Smackie Onassis


  1. the house lights were on for the end in melbourne too. maybe that is just something they do?
    also, did they have the creepy movie at the the start? that I can't remember the name of right now, but it's referenced in debaser? that was good.
    also they finished with gigantic in melbourne, but I got the feeling they weren't planning it, as it was sort of a third mini encore only the band never left the stage that time. they bowed and people were shouting for that song so they went back and played it.

    also is it just me or do the pixies look like one of the nicest bands you have ever seen? especially for a band of that standing,,,

    woah I guess I am still excited about the pixies

  2. Oh man, is Kim Deal not the cutest person you've ever seen in your life? She was so adorable.

    Yeah, they had the creepy movie! I really liked the graphic, my favourite was the one where they just filmed all four of them reacting to the song. Also the crazy tunnel that was playing behind Number 13 Baby, that was great.

    Also you should watch this documentary about Coachella I watched this one time. I don't remember what it was called, I only saw it because I found the dvd at the Newcastle Library (friggin the best library ever). It showed a lot of footage of past festivals as well as interviews with the bands, the organisers, the fans etc. There is a bit with the Pixies, and it shows them playing where is my mind.

    Other reasons you should watch this documentary: Wayne Coyne crowdsurfing inside a giant plastic bubble, Stuart Murdoch being charming as ever

  3. she sure is.
    was that the movie where they were doing the mexican wave and stuff? I liked that one too :)

    I agree with you about the crowd being eclectic, only I was GA and so there was a few douches. nothing too major, but still, some punchable folks. and I got drenched in other peoples sweat.