On Sunday night I saw the best band I will ever see playing live. Pixies returned to Melbourne, and although I missed seeing them play the Northcote Social Club in 2005 (despite delivering to a customer at that very venue at the time, in my former life as Purveyor Of Healthy Lunches), this time I was lucky enough to secure a ticket, thanks to my virtual contact with one Peta Pledger.
It had been another exhausting weekend with the family, leaving me with a gaping deficit in personal time, time to write, to reflect and compose. As I washed the dishes I was lamenting my changed work roster; when I booked the ticket, my day off was Monday, but now I was in training for my new role, I had to return to work the next day, and that meant that I was planning to stay up all night if necessary; to write about my experience, and just to claim some of that time that was otherwise so hard to find over any given weekend as a Dad.
I wore the T shirt I had worn earlier in the day for gardening, with my jeans and my $11.95 imitation Crocs sandals from Rivers. I thought only about comfort, and from what I had seen of Pixies from their live DVDs, they didn’t dress fancy themselves. As I slid on my sandals, I imagined hanging with the band backstage after the show, and after I left, Joey Santiago asking someone if they knew who the guy in the Crocs was.
With the iPhone plugged into the car stereo, Hüsker Dü’s Crystal shuffled on, and I selected a Genius playlist to shuffle after it. It revealed a similarity and heritage I hadn’t noticed before, and my mood was tuned for the show:
Hüsker Dü: Crystal
The Replacements: Run It
Paul Westerberg: High Time
Mission Of Burma: Academy Fight Song
Archers Of Loaf: Web In Front
Hüsker Dü: Eiffel Tower High
The Jesus & Mary Chain: You Trip Me Up
As I approached Festival Hall to this soundtrack, I passed the gathering crowd on the street – indie chicks in denim skirts and sneakers (unattainable as they will remain), and packs of dudes in black T shirts; their bottles and laughter leaving me nervous, chewing my thumb nail as I drove – right past the venue, and only narrowly avoided heading off on CityLink or Footscray Rd.
I don’t remember when I was last here – it could have been no later than 1996, but possibly even earlier. I guess I saw Archers Of Loaf or Pavement, maybe with Jason from Dream on Queensberry St.
I find a place to park a couple of blocks away, near the Embassy taxi diner and as I head for the venue I hope I can find the car afterward. I pass a grim-looking fella wearing a “Bring Back The Early 90’s” T shirt, and I smile on the inside. Them was the daze, bruvva.
I’m frisked on entry, and as I consider investing in a T shirt (am I not too old? asks the logical side; I am definitely a fan, and I have never yet had a Pixies shirt, the fanboy argues), I hear a girl comment that they still have just that one T shirt design (the Doolittle cover, not surprising given this is the anniversary tour).
Then I’m inside the hall, and it’s already packed. I make my way over to stage right, and although I wish I was six inches taller, my view is OK.
I’m pleased to note that overall the crowd is made up of “normal” looking people, people my age. But the yoof is here as well, in force. And the music means as much to them as it did to me and still does now.
I’m behind a dude with enviable quiff, ear plugs and horn rim glasses, arms crossed, taking it in, nodding like me.
Manta Ray gets the floor shaking, and near me there’s a girl skipping like she’s doing the Riverdance – and I see guys who look like the kind of thugs Kurt Cobain would have despised becoming his fans – but maybe it’s just my perception. Two of them are grooving, swaying romantically to the melody of Here Comes Your Man.
The Riverdancer is a female me: she is my abandoned self, uninhibited, long ginger hair flowing over her face, as she waves her arms in the air and falls back against her man.
The chorus to Tame has me shaking like a man in a straitjacket; and I’m not alone. With floor toms and bass drum pounding, David Lovering rides his kit like no other drummer I know, evoking the image of a stagecoach driver with a runaway cargo, even more riveting because he looks like some kind of geeky science teacher. There are more air drummers than air guitarists – and that’s testament to David Lovering’s presence, his importance in this band.
Dead is awesome too and the floor of the venue is really shaking. Crackity Jones is manic, with the Big Guy out front going crazy and the rhythm section almost too fast for itself.
There’s a tall chick in black doing arty dancing – “no don’t look at me / oh please look at me,” her look suggests. Meanwhile, The Riverdancer is all dramatising the lyrics of Hey – “whores in my head / whores in my bed”, she pleads, with arms in the air.
Joey Santiago, for his musical prowess, draws no attention to himself – other than when he takes off his baseball cap to wipe his shaved head, and during his solo for Into The White (the band’s first encore), when he’s silhouetted against a strobe-lit wall of dry ice. His musical style is minimalist, he sketches impressions, but they are lasting ones.
On the balcony, a guy with close-cropped grey hair and a cowboy shirt who looks like he could be someone’s Dad calls to the stage like he’s a stockbroker giving orders to buy buy buy to Gouge Away.
The signature guitar intro to Planet Of Sound kicks off the band’s second encore. The house lights come on, and I’m rocking as hard as I have yet, smiling too. This is cerebral rock, the crowd’s just noddin’, diggin’ it on the inside, man. Rockin’ out.
Then the band is fiddling around, searching for a guitar tuning – and the intricacies are lost on me since I don’t play any musical instrument, but I wonder how this workmanlike band can be foiled at this stage, and a tiny part of me cynically wonders whether this is staged. Then Velouria comes on, and crowd is on its feet as one, with a kind of beatific glow. There’s a guy behind me, with a black beard, and he’s just smiling with this blissed-out transcendental look that I feel as well, and for a moment we share something unspoken. I had hoped they would play this song.
I fit here. I would have hung around to get my hands on a copy of the live CD of the show, but for the necessity to sleep before getting back to my very non-rock n’ roll job in the morning. You can read about why it was a good thing I didn’t buy that CD here.