There's been a recent spate of indie bands celebrating the umpteenth anniversary of one of their classic records by reuniting and "in support" of that album. They haven't all been good, or even a good idea, but the latest one was fantastic.
Last summer, Dinosaur Jr mysteriously toured, playing their 1988 album Bug in its entirety. I'm not a huge Dinosaur Jr fan, but I do like them. That record, however, isn't something that I'm in touch with at all. I know some people who are huge fans, and they put that record at the bottom of their canon. I've read that their frontman J Mascis calls it his least favorite of his own records. So when that tour was announces, I thought about it for about half a second. I've never seen Dinosuar Jr, and I've heard that they always put on a great show. However, it was a celebration of an album that I'm not familiar with, the fans don't like, and J himself doesn't like. It was an easy choice to opt out of that one.
A few months ago, the Lemonheads toured, playing their 1992 album It's a Shame About Ray. I like The Lemonheads quite a bit, and I adore that album. It sounded like something that I simply had to do. They, like Dinosaur Jr, came to Chapel Hill. It was on a Sunday night, the night before my birthday. It sounded like a great idea, until... When they made that record, frontman Evan Dando was inseparable with Juliana Hatfield. She was a pretty important part of that record, playing bass on all tracks, singing backing vocals on almost every track, and practically taking the lead on some of them. It's really hard to imagine that record without her. From the last chorus of the title track (#3) through the rest of the album, she's there. And there's no way to imagine the song "My Drug Buddy" without her. Anyway, I did a tiny bit of research and found out that she wasn't part of the tour. That was an automatic dealbreaker for me. She's such an integral part of that record that even though I like it a lot, it wouldn't be worth it. So I took a pass.
During the summer, the Pixies announced that they would re-re-reunite and tour, playing their seminal 1989 Doolittle in its entirety. It's the third time they've toured the "twentieth anniversary" of that album. It was a no-brainer. I love that band. I love that album. And they were coming right here to Greensboro. With each of these "twentieth anniversary" tours, they've played exclusively in towns where they've never played before. Obviously they can't play in every town, but they've been hitting the college towns and medium-sized cities where, for some reason, they've never played.
It was a seated, auditorium show, and that means higher ticket prices. I was fine with that. They announced that there would be a pre-sale that included a tee shirt. $74 for everything. The ticket, the shirt, shipping. No extra ticketmaster fees or taxes. It's a lot to pay for a show, but naturally I thought about it in terms of premium seating and how the tee shirt was included. Or free, even. I've never paid that much to see a show, and I routinely ridicule people who happily shell out $250 for a lousy seat to see somebody like U2 play in a football stadium. Expensive, but worth it. One of my favorite bands. An absolutely brilliant record. It has to be good. At least, that's what I kept telling myself as I was going thought the e-checkout.
After a few weeks, the shirt arrived, and it's pretty sweet. They didn't sell them on the tour, but it's a tour shirt. Exclusive to us suckers who shelled out the big bucks in the pre-sell. More weeks passed, and the anticipation of the big night grew.
And then, I got a new job. The new job requires one out of town overnight trip every week. You can probably guess what night of the week my weekly trip fell vis-a-vis the Pixies show.
When I took the job, I thought about announcing that I wouldn't be available to go out of town that night. But who asks for days off during the job interview? I thought it would be a bridge I would cross when I came to it. As I got closer and closer to that moment, I started to think that I would have to forfeit the ticket. The way this thing works is that the pre-sold tickets were held at will call. Nobody knew exactly where their seat was until the night of the show. Since I didn't have a physical ticket or even a seat location, I couldn't really sell it. And it wouldn't matter anyway, since they were held at will call.
The scheduling conflict notwithstanding, after about a month into the job, I started to realize that the overnight trip made me hate the job. Not only were those days out-of-town, but they were really long. Like 16 hours long. My salary and the overnight perdiem weren't adding up to make it seem worth the frustration of it all.
I'm still working that job for a little while longer, but I'm not doing the overnight drive anymore. Starting with the night of the Pixies show. Turns out I wouldn't have to worry about crossing any bridge.
I'd seen Pixies twice before. Once, in 1992, just after they released Trompe le Monde. I really dislike that album. The band was going through a bit of turmoil back then, and it was obvious on stage that night. It was a mess. I don't remember much about that night except that it was really loud. And that Kim was being treated like a persona non grata. Whereas her part was pretty major on all of the previous albums, her part was minor, at best, on Trompe. Even when they played older stuff, none of those songs were the ones where Kim is near the front. It was almost like they were pushing her out of the band. Like they were telling her to go ahead and be in The Breeders.
The other time that I saw Pixies was in 1993. Elektra Records reissued the 1988 debut record Surfer Rosa, and they were asked to go on tour with U2 as the opening act on the Achtung Baby tour. In those days, I was still a massive U2 fan, but Achtung didn't sit well with me. I was there as much for Pixies as I was for U2. They didn't have much time, and all they played was stuff from Surfer Rosa. That's actually fine with me, and it was a good, but short, show.
Two completely different shows. Both nearly 20 years ago. I knew that this would be very different from both of those. Good or bad, it would be different.
Before the show, I stopped by a watering hole that's pretty close to the War Memorial Auditorium. I figured there might be a few people in there who would be going to the show. As it turns out, I ran into about 10 friends who were all going to the show. We were all in the same boat, having bought tickets through the pre-sale, and not being in any big hurry to see Surfer Blood. I got to the venue just as Surfer Blood was going on. Like a few hundred others, I lingered around in the lobby while they played, and drank a very expensive domestic beer. And I ran into several other friends and acquaintances.
It was great, I should add, that there weren't many kids there. Almost exclusively 30- and 40- somethings.
Finally, I went to my seat, which was in the fifth row of the orchestra seating, which was pretty good. I was on the aisle, right center. This has certain advantages, but the main disadvantage is that it makes me and my camera plainly visible to the security, who frowned on the use of cameras all night long. I got a few decent still shots in, but was unable to get more than a 30 second video.
The bamd came on, and the house erupted. They started with a few b-sides from the Doolittle era. Before each song, Kim announced that "this next one is even more obscure". If I'm honest, I didn't recognize any of them. She said that they had to learn one of them because they'd never performed it before. Any worries that they wouldn't be tight were allayed during the first song. They were great and everybody's head was in the game. And they were all happy to be there.
Once they started playing the album proper, things got even better.
I assumed at this show, in those pre-sale seats, that everyone knew the score, but there was a guy behind me who kept shouting out his "requests". We all knew (or most of us did) that they would be playing the album from start to finish, in order. There's no point in calling out requests or even hoping for any variance from the track listing. This clown behind me, though, kept shouting out "Gigantic!". I guess he forgot or didn't know that "Gigantic" isn't on Doolittle. What's more, he was calling it out just three songs into the set. Maybe he really didn't know that it was a Doolittle thing,
After "Gouge Away", obviously, the album is over. So they left the stage and the crowd went through the ridiculous motions of begging for an encore. They came back out for a few songs, including "Into the White", "Nimrod's Son", "Vamos", and the "Wave Of Mutilation -- UK Surf Mix" (slow). They left and came back again for a few more including "Gigantic" and "Where is My Mind". Unfortunately, they didn't play "Cactus" in the encore, but I took great relief in the fact that they didn't play anything from Trompe le Monde.
In all, it was a great night, and although the ticket was a bit on the spendy side, I'm really glad that I went.