Pixies Doolittle tour wows fans in Paris

Joe Hyam 22 October 2009

Joe Hyam celebrated the band’s successful reunion and outstanding performance

The Pixies – Le Zenith, Paris (16/10/09)

Reunited bands have seen varying fortunes of late.

The good: Blur, triumphant at Glastonbury. The bad: Smashing Pumpkins, with Billy Corgan indulging in shiny skirts and embarrassing bleatings. The ugly: Spandau Ballet, for shame.

The Pixies have done the reunion thing before, though. They know the routine. They play their songs like they always did, and the fans love it.

As if another chance to catch such an influential band wasn’t enough, the prospect of hearing leftfield classic Doolittle from start to finish was always going to be popular.

Le Zenith fills to capacity in anticipation. A rapt crowd squirms collectively as scenes from Dali and Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou play on a big screen behind the empty stage.Twenty minutes later, they’ll all be yelling “slicing up eyeballs / I want you to know” in gleeful abandon – incidentally, this sounds extra menacing when rendered in approximately 6000 French accents.

First, the band rumbles through four B-sides, under dim lights. Pixies B-sides are great, ‘Bailey’s Walk’ and ‘Weird At My School’ hitting home despite relative unfamiliarity, but everyone knows that this is just the preamble. After the thundering ‘Manta Ray’, Kim Deal grins knowingly, and merrily plunges into the opening riff of ‘Debaser’.

The stage lights up and the venue erupts into that Surrealist sing-along. Amazingly, this album is twenty years old, but it has aged well, sounding visceral and vital. Film footage and video projections complement each track, bringing a compelling visual dimension to the show.

Frank Black regresses into the Black Francis of old, his arsenal of barks, yelps and screams as devastating as ever in ‘Tame’ and ‘Crackity Jones’, his croon disarmingly soothing in ‘Here Comes Your Man’. He is a captivating performer, simultaneously playful, abrasive, neurotic and commanding.

Kim Deal is a jovial indie auntie figure, cheerful and chatty in endearing pidgin French, her basslines and backing vocals dovetailing with Dave Lovering’s sturdy drumming to underpin Black’s histrionics.

Lead guitarist Joey Santiago is incisive and unerring; hearing his towering solo pealing out in response to Black’s slurred, “Rock me, Joe,” during ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ is just one of countless miniature highlights.

Doolittle is an album bursting with little moments to delight the obsessive fan, and these are pleasingly delivered, right down to the eerie chuckle at the start of ‘Mr Grieves’. ‘Gouge Away’ is fervent and ferocious, bringing the album to a fittingly intense conclusion.

Returning to warm adulation, the band blast through the remaining Doolittle-era B-sides before, with the house lights up, they indulge the appreciative crowd with a brief smattering of favourites from Surfer Rosa, Come On Pilgrim, and Trompe Le Monde.

They finish with a joyous rendition of ‘Gigantic’, and are gone.

Joe Hyam