“That was Frank Black!” I shouted from the passenger seat of a car driving down Elm towards College Street Music Hall around seven o’clock, eastern standard time, two hours before showtime. Maybe I was a little loud—and maybe I saw him produce a little smirk—but it really was him. I can’t imagine what he was heading for, walking towards Broadway on a moody late summer evening by himself. Having played a large part of my teenage years owing to a movie about fighting, I’m surprised I didn’t jump out of the car right then and there. It seemed like a logical thing to do in hindsight, but instead I played it cool and went to stand in line waiting for the doors to open.
Sunflower Bean opened, a band on whom I could not lay any more praise in writing here than I have in person. In the nearly two years since their debut LP, Human Ceremony, was released, I have spent a good amount of time trying to get other people to listen to them. Their songwriting is tightly focused with a vision for how they want to be seen, even if that vision is slightly mysterious. In that time I have not been able to catch them live for reasons monetary and other, so this was a real treat. The first time that I saw the Pixies live, two New York bands were opening up for them, one of them went on to have a decent run, a fate I hope Sunflower Bean will have.
The band is tight, but fun. They don’t have any of the pretense of the Glam Rock scene they harken back to, and there was only one boa. That item adorned the neck of Julia Cumming who danced along while singing and playing bass, while guitarist Nick Kivlen lackadaisically walked around in circles while playing his intricate lead lines. Their sound was full, astounding considering that it is just three people on stage, and rounded out by Jacob Faber (who I had the pleasure of interviewing for Pancakes & Whiskey last year) who absolutely thunders live. Half the songs were from their debut, but excitingly, half were new, meaning that a new record is around the corner for me to gush over.
Later, having made his way back from wherever he was, Black and the rest of the Pixies summarily came out on stage and played somewhere between 90 and 1000 songs. From the moment they went into the first song, there was hardly a break in the set. While this did break up the soft/loud/soft style that they are well known for, it provided enough momentum to start a pit, which many people took for a fight, which is exactly how long it’s been since I’ve been to even a punk show where there was a pit (because punk is dead, deal with it).
The last time that I wrote about Pixies was their set at Boston Calling a few years back, where it felt as if they absolutely tried to force the new material on the crowd. Here though, with all the songs blended together, it was seamless, and really took some of that critical edge out of “oh the new stuff isn’t as good as their old stuff.” Not much is going to match Doolittle or Surfer Rosa (which is still their best album, deal with it), but mediocrity it’s not. And when a band sets a high bar for itself, it’s hard for even fans to reconcile.
(An Aside on “Where is my Mind?”: I fucking love that song, along with everyone else that saw that movie about the dudes that fight but also love each other. It says a lot that some people would get up and go after they’ve heard it. Because imagine spending a whole night and some good money to hear one song.)
Pixies have been one of my favorite bands for close to 15 years now, and a chance to see them play this well is definitely a night to remember. Although I still wish that Kim Deal were still in the band, I think that’s the same person in me who wrote off (and let’s be honest, will still continue to write off) the new stuff despite no good reason to. Sunflower Bean has been growing on me continually for over a year now, and a chance to see them now before the eventual breakout is awesome. I like being a Fan (at least to one side of stanning), it’s part of what makes music great, even if I don’t jump out of the car to say so.
Article: Christopher Gilson
Cover Image: Alx Bear (May ’17, NYC)