LIVE REVIEW: Pixies @ The Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

Grunge aficionados might sometimes wistfully tell you the tragedy of Kurt Cobain’s early death was made only slightly better by the inevitability of his musical decline, had he still been around. Look to a band so influential to him, Pixies, and it’s crystal clear that such a musical decline is no foregone conclusion.

Touring new album Head Carrier, the Boston quartet’s second release since reforming in 2004. There is no sense that has happened here. New blends with old, and although frontman Black Francis has taken on the air of a Heston Blumenthal who is both chef and customer, vocals remain sharp and it takes a sharper ear still to notice any missed beats..

‘Bel Esprit’ and ‘Might As Well Be Gone’ stand out as the peaks of a bunch of newer songs in an opening salvo that fairly seamlessly blends classics ranging from opening tracks ‘Bone Machine’ and ‘Monkey Gone to Heaven’. There isn’t the usual drop-off of quality and enthusiasm you usually get when bands of a certain age take pause to showcase their most recent efforts.

It’s not just the new songs that integrate, either. 2014 bass addition Paz Lenchantin slots in alongside Black Francis, guitarist Joey Santiago, and drummer David Lovering, adding vocals from time to time.

Songs come thick and fast, and rarely for longer than three minutes. With a show so un-showy, any cracks would be laid bare. Dressed all in black, and performing in front of a slightly industrial backdrop, no-frills Pixies fill any potential void with sheer class. It’s difficult to say anything other than simply how good they are.

Perhaps the biggest mass recognition of this quality was the success of ‘Where Is My Mind?’ Even those unaccustomed to Pixies’ back catalogue get a smile on their face when the opening ethereal howls of the Fight Club classic start to play.

Diehard fans aren’t neglected either, and it’s clear there are plenty. So much of the sparser outer rings of a packed Motorpoint crowd are obviously having plenty of reminiscent moments, kicking back and letting a little loose to a band that sound tracked so many early 90’s adolescences.

Make your way forward and the crowd gets more compact, more raucous, and, interestingly, younger. Pixies are still drawing new crowds, and not just those on some reverential nostalgia kick. As the opening riff of ‘Here Comes Your Man’ jangles, the party really starts down the front. For many other bands, a double bill of the quality of that and ‘La La Love You’ would be a triumphant end to an accomplished set. For Pixies, it kick starts a frenzied (at least for the crowd) final 20 minutes of the set, culminating in ‘Debaser’ and ‘Vamos’.

Exploring the stage to wave to all corners of the audience is about as far as crowd interaction gets for the gig. As they bow out in an all-encompassing cloud of smoke, the stage is engulfed. Their black clad silhouettes just about visible, they treat avid listeners to an encore of B-Side ‘Into the White’, and then finally disappear into the white.

Greg Barradale