Pixies in Big Sur

Stuart Thornton on April 22, 2014


Henry Miller Library

Big Sur, Calif.

April 15

Spring is a great time to be in California. Wildflowers color the state’s hills, and the winter rains—not that there was much this year—taper off. In addition, music fans are treated to a slew of shows by the best bands in the world that are in the state to play at Coachella for two weekends. One of the week’s biggest coups was local promoter (((folkYEAH!))) and Big Sur’s Henry Miller Library snagging of the seminal alt rock act the Pixies for an intimate performance under the redwoods at this outdoor venue between the band’s Coachella commitments.

The show began without an introduction as the foursome launched into “Bone Machine” off their classic 1988 album Surfer Rosa. With touring bassist Paz Lenchantin playing the departed Kim Deal’s basslines and providing some backing vocals, the band then tore into “Wave of Mutilation” and “U-Mass,” which found a few audience members pumping their fists during frontman Black Francis’ screams of “it’s educational!”

With a smile plastered across her face and a rose dangling off the neck of her bass guitar, Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle, Zwan, The Entrance Band) was a buoyant presence, but it was the interaction between Francis and underrated guitarist Joey Santiago that was the heart of Pixies performance. The two frequently faced each other while revving up the group’s songs.

On songs like “Mr. Grieves” and “Gouge Away,” Francis sung and screamed powerfully, giving the ghost of Kurt Cobain a reason to smile. The band also seemed to stretch out the start of some of their best songs—“Gouge Away” included—to build up more crowd anticipation for their powerful eruptions of guitar and throat shredding vocals. Throughout the night, the Pixies sprinkled new songs into their set including “Indie Cindy,” which sounded a bit like material from one of Francis’ solo albums as Frank Black.

A clear high point came on “Vamos,” which began with Francis singing in Spanish, the crowd clapping along and Santiago adding washes of unruly guitar. Then, fully embracing his rock star side, the guitarist held his guitar over the crowd while twisting its knobs before playing it backwards. Santiago then unplugged his guitar and started tamping his fingers on the electrified amp cord, sending out Morse code like pulses of sound into the redwoods.

After a stellar “Where Is My Mind?,” the whole group gathered on the edge of the stage and waved good night. Francis gauged the crowd and uttered the only words of the evening from stage: “one more.”That one more was a perfectly noisy “Planet of Sound” streaked with feedback and echoing vocals. As the band walked offstage, David Bowie’s “Heroes” blared from the venue’s speakers. It was a fitting song for one of alt rock’s best bands of all time that proved at this intimate show that they still have a timeless and powerful sound.