They came. They played ‘Where is My Mind?’ and other anthems. They left. The Pixies gave a grunge masterclass this week in Tel Aviv.
In 1995 my older brother Anthony came to Israel to volunteer on a kibbutz for a few months – that’s what backpackers did back then. I was just turning 16 and leaving school, Anthony was seven years older and had a pretty extensive vinyl and CD collection. From the Velvet Underground to Sonic Youth, he had hundreds of very cool, very rare records. So when he went away, I selflessly stepped in to ‘take care’ of his records.
Anthony was unaware, but I spent the summer of 1995 listening to his records, some of which ‘migrated’ to my bedroom across the hallway. One record that immediately caught my attention was a rather rude LP cover, featuring a topless Flamenco dancer. It was, of course, the Pixies debut album, Surfer Rosa. They recorded a mini-LP, Come On Pilgrim earlier.
Teenager of the Year
Released in 1988, Surfer Rosa is now a bonafide classic. But back in the mid-90s, not many of my friends were Pixies fans. Nirvana, yes. Pearl Jam, definitely. And in the UK at the time, the buzz was about Oasis Vs. Blur. Personally, I always liked Radiohead, but I digress.
So from Surfer Rosa, I moved onto the other Pixies albums and Frank Black’s solo work, like Teenager of the Year. I guess, looking back, I was mesmerised by this guy’s surreal lyrics and wide range of guitar styles.
Pre-iTunes and Spotify of course, we used to sit on our beds and listen to an entire album without a screen or usually not skipping tracks. I recall imagining surreal music videos for Frank Black songs, one featuring an underwater dragon. So, in my mind, I was ‘teenager of the year’ in 1995.
What’s all this got to do with the Pixies playing in Tel Aviv in 2022? Not much, to be honest. It’s just that when I heard the Pixies were coming to town, after two years of Covid, I felt this was a gig that couldn’t be missed.
So how was the gig? It was great in a grungy-kind of way. Musically, it was a masterclass of grunge guitar effects on classic songs like ‘Gauge Away’, ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’, and ‘Gigantic’ – the perfect ‘quiet-loud-quiet’ song that apparently had a huge influence on Kurt Cobain. The Mexican-esque ‘Caribou’ is still extraordinary, and when Frank Black screamed ‘Repent’ it felt like the whole crowd screamed it with him.
‘River Euphrates’, another old song, includes the lyrics, ‘Stuck here out of gas / out here on the Gaza Strip’. Of course, the Gaza Strip ain’t far from Tel Aviv, but it feels like a million miles away from the Expo venue.
There were no big screens at the venue. No gimmicks, no lasers, just a basic light show. But most notedly, there were no words spoken. The band did not say a single word to the adoring crowd for the whole set. Some bands come to Israel and say a word or two in Hebrew. But the Pixies said nada. They smiled at the beginning, waved at the end. There was no ‘Hello’, not one ‘Thanks’. But that’s them. They did the same in London.
I’ve read that Frank Black doesn’t like talking to crowds and it helps him focus on the music. They did give their all to the performance – screaming, debasing, they barely paused for applause between songs. They’re not Joe Biden, who also arrives in Israel this week. They don’t need to say washy diplomatic slogans, or talk about a non-existent peace process.
Bob Dylan did the same in 2011 when he played Ramat Gan Stadium. Everyone was expecting Dylan (real name Robert Zimmerman) to say something about being in Israel, after all, he is one of the world’s most famous Jews, or humans, or whatever. But why do we need artists to speak to us, isn’t their art enough?
Where is My Mind?
Didn’t Frank Black know that we got stuck in traffic and couldn’t find parking for 30 minutes outside the Expo? Didn’t he know that I’ve got three kids and don’t go out much to see live bands? Why didn’t he thank me personally? And where is my mind?
The legendary support act, Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains, was the opposite. He rocked out like the Pixies with his mane of long golden hair. He sang all the old hits, ending with ‘Rooster’, and threw out tons of guitar picks to the crowd. He yelled, ‘Thanks Tel Aviv, this feels great!’
Kim Deal, original Pixies bassist who also formed the Breeders, used to do most of the speaking to the crowd. But Kim was replaced by Paz Lenchantin in 2014.
Like many rock legends, the Pixies have a long, complicated history. Frank Black, or Black Francis, (real name Charles Thompson), formed the Pixies in Boston in 1986, then they split up in 1993, before reuniting in 2004.
It’s pretty well-known that the Pixies made little-to-no money in comparison to all the bands they influenced in the 1990s. They never signed to a big label like Nirvana did. Actually, Nirvana enlisted Pixies’ producer Steve Albini to get that distinctive drum sound in their album In Utero.
So the modern Pixies, without Kim Deal, are making up for lost years. The current world tour sees them playing non-stop until the end of December. And they have a new album, Doggerel, coming out in September. Frank Black is still screaming better than ever. Joey Santiago’s ringing lead guitar is still unmistakable. And David Lovering is drumming like a hardcore punker. Long may it last.