Pixies, Peforming Doolittle, Hollywood Palladium, November 4, 2009

Frank Black
PHOTO by Sung. Full set here.

Debuting the Doolittle show to the U.S. at this first of a three-night-stand at the Hollywood Palladium, Pixies have the crowd won over before a note is played. But nonetheless, they will proceed to deliver the goods over the course of the hour and half set that unfolds. One of the side effects of the play-a-classic-album show is that the fixed script largely eliminates the element of surprise and prunes out the most casual fans. The collective vibe is thus more akin to that of something like Rocky Horror screening; the converted going to church. It’s heartening to see multiple generations of fans, even if the mean age might skew a bit towards the Gen X’ers. One little ‘tween girl skipping around has an endearing tiny iron-on shirt with their four faces in silhouette.

After a pixelated projection of Buñuel and Dali’s Un chien andalou, famously source material for the poetry of Debaser, they take the stage, three of the four of them clad in slimming all black, David the lone hold out in a white button down. A quartet of conjoined glowing globes, something between a science fair molecular model and rosary beads, dangles over them. Lo-fi but effective stage art (to go along with projections of unique new song-length films assigned to most of the songs). They ease into the set with four Doolittle-era B-sides. And while I had hoped for Kim’s “Debaser” bouncing bass eighth-notes to be the first sounds of the night, going with the B-sides proves to the be right way to go–a nod to the deeper fans, serving to build the anticipation, while setting the album in some kind of context.

Kim, the all-time queen of indie rock, growing out a short pixie ‘do, is with smile all night behind her P-bass. She’s positively bursting to connect and chit-chat with fans between tunes. She couldn’t be more of a contrast to Frank’s stage presence, imposing and quiet between the tunes, save a few words exchanged with Joey. He seems relaxed, even kind of slouching a bit at the mic. Not to say he is not putting everything he’s got into it–his scream tears through the dark room, as impressive as ever and his meaty hands hold down perfect rhythm up and down the guitar neck–but that he’s so cool and at ease, it all comes effortlessly to him at this stage of the game. Joey is focused and intense, nailing his melodic top lines and pulling Les Paul feedback precise as lasers out of his Marshall stacks. David looks well and is also pulling grins behind the kit–maybe it’s a rhythm section thing–and is hitting the skins with full intent and fury these days.

So do they pull it off? Of course. They are on their game for the most part but I can see them warming up a bit by the time the Friday show rolls around. From Debaser all the way through to Gouge Away, it’s one long party, each and every tune greeted warmly, like an old friend. When it’s all over, following a second encore of three Surfer Rosa tunes, including Kim’s star turn on Gigantic–played with the Palladium house lights turned on, lending a nice surreal dream effect to the end–it’s the consistency of Doolittle end to end that we’re left with. Not a dud in the batch of fifteen tunes. Debaser, Here Comes Your Man and This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven may be the “singles”, but the deeper cuts shine and seem to resonate with the crowd most. Hey, Gouge Away, Tame, Mr. Grieves–all deep cut classics. Even Dave’s turn for La La Love You has it’s charm. Another thing comes across is that no song is longer (or shorter) than it needs to be. Would that more bands today had this mentality instead of stretching three minute ideas into five minute dirges. On CD, the whole of Doolittle clocks in under 40 minutes. Live, throw in a few guitar swaps and tune-ups, it stretches out a perfect set length.

While the play-an-entire-classic-album live show trend may have run its course–even tonight, just around the corner at the Fonda, Devo is running through Freedom of Choice–few albums can match Doolittle for consistency, song sequence, poetic cohesion and wide range of sonic dynamics and translate to the live stage as perfectly. Except for maybe Surfer Rosa. Or Bossanova. Or Trompe le Monde.

Sidebar: The anticipated limited edition Minotaur Pixies career-spanning box set by Artists In Residence made an early appearance behind the merch table at these shows. Though the term “box set” really is inadequate in this particular case. Beyond the full catalog of recordings it contains, in a multitude of formats, it is as a whole, one gorgeous art piece. If there are fears that today’s iTunes MP3 culture is threatening to reduce music to mere computer files, Minotaur is a 25-pound argument for the continued importance of physical music product. I haven’t seen a comparable collection that’s been assembled for any other rock band. Full details here.