Celebrating the 30th anniversary of Doolittle, Pixies’ most commercially successful album, the alt-rock legends from the US have officially hit middle age. The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea is oddly fitting for a reunion gig with live debuts from their new album Beneath the Eyrie.
The Brighton set have risked the train journey east and are massing in the brightly lit bar before heading in to the gig, which starts early and with no support. Opening with Gouge Away, a Doolittle staple, frontman Black Francis has rated this one of his favourites. The crowd are slow moving, ready to sing, and with the exception of one woman who jogs the pint out of my hand in a sudden youthful leap, it’s an easy sneak to the front rail. There’s no pushing or moshing. There’s no anger.
Weaving new material between hits from Surfer Rosa and Doolittle they keep the crowd in their thrall. Monkey Gone to Heaven is a triumph, with fans chanting “then god is seven!” louder than Black Francis himself. He seems tired of the routine, his eyes roll up to the ceiling and he lolls at his guitar. But the strangeness of some of these songs are what keeps the eyes fixated on him, his curious vision over the years which has seen him pen lyrics on everything from sci-fi to biblical violence and horror.
Pixies have produced seven studio albums in their lifetime, disrupted only by bass guitarist Kim Deal’s controversial departure in 2013. I am fascinated by her ‘replacement’ Paz Lenchantin and how she feels to step into Deal’s shoes, because even now six years on Deal’s ghost prowls the stage. Lenchantin clearly stands in her own right, and a female bassist is so necessary to the maelstrom of Black Francis’s riffs. Her harmonies cut through cleanly, counter to the chaos. I find myself drawn to her on the far stage waving the red ribboned rosette on her guitar. She is terrific on Gigantic and makes this all her own.
After an hour of playing Black Francis shouts “Hey” on the mic, cueing the song. It serves as a shy hello and the crowd are grateful. There’s a beautiful b-side version of Wave of Mutilation that sounds slower, mournful and more true. A reminder that at the heart of many Pixies songs are strange narratives and fables. It’s this balladry that comes over instead of the angst in the new material. Catfish Kate and Daniel Boone are folksy numbers and there’s something of a return to myth-making in the gothic lyrics, it almost stirs.
The only falter is Debaser, a massive crowd pleaser that falls flat. The timing doesn’t come together and Lenchantin’s vocals are drowned out, it sounds tired and mechanic. Rescued by a lively cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Head On, the crowd pick up, there’s a shout from the midfield ‘we love you!’
Even if the new material doesn’t fully excite, Pixies have a loyal enough following to turn out for whatever they do on the strength of the first two albums alone. There’s even a cameo appearance from Eddie Izzard at the De La Warr bar, a larger than life Pixies fan in leather skirt and boots. He stalks off to the gig, his comedy walk every bit as good in real life.