Pixies had little to say, but lots to play at the Paramount Theatre on Sunday, December 3. The alt-rock pioneers, who formed in Boston in 1986, blazed through a 33 song set in just over an hour and a half, speaking a grand total of two words to the crowd between songs. Fans didn’t seem to care about the lack of banter. It meant there was more time for the music. After all, the less time Pixies frontman Charles “Black Francis” Thompson spent talking, the more he could spend snarling in spanglish (encore closer “Vamos”) or singing sweetly about spooning out eyeballs (both “Debaser” AND “Gouge Away”).
With ample time to play, Pixies checked off a wide range of material from their highly influential, six album catalogue of tormented pop. They blasted through “Isla De Encanta,” from 1987 debut Come On Pilgrim, “Classic Masher” from 2016’s Head Carrier (their latest), and worked in two different versions of “Wave of Mutilation,” one of many songs played from Pixies’ 1989 classic, Doolittle. In fact, Pixies pulled nearly a third of their performance from Doolittle, playing nine of the album’s 15 tracks.
“Monkey Gone to Heaven,” the album’s lead single and one of Pixies’ many songs about some version of the end times, was a definite highlight. Thompson screamed about toxic sludge killing "an underwater guy who controlled the sea," the crowd screamed along, and lights behind the band burned red. When Thompson got to the verse with the biblical numerology -- “If man is five, then the devil is six” -- a few fans held six fingers above their heads, signaling their knowledge of the lyrics and devotion to the music. The apocalypse never sounded so fun.
Pixies really hit their stride when playing some of their fastests cuts back-to-back. The nuclear holocaust surf rock of “Mr. Grieves” spread into “Nimrod’s Son,” the manic shrieks of “Crackity Jones” echoed into “Broken Face,” and, song by song, Pixies gained momentum. Yet, even as the show gained energy, Pixies never lost control. That’s what set the performance apart. When the band entered faster, more chaotic territory, their playing remained precise and powerful, proof that they’ve been at this game for awhile now. It was a masterful set from a band with lasting influence.
Before Pixies, openers The Orwells set the tone with an exhilarating show of garage rock, drawing primarily on their Strokes-y new album, Terrible Human Beings. The rambunctious Chicago rockers packed a powerful punch, cramming nine high-energy songs into a festival-length, 30-minute set. With distorted guitars, pounding drums, and howling vocals, the music called to mind contemporary acts like FIDLAR, White Reaper, and Black Lips. Frontman Mario Cuomo -- who cites Odd Future provocateur Tyler, the Creator as an influence -- got particularly rowdy, even going so far as to slam his mic on the ground and walk offstage during the middle of the last song. Like parents ignoring a child’s temper tantrum, the rest of the band remained onstage, keeping their heads down, and steadily working “Double Feature,” to a frenzied finish four minutes later. Between Pixies’ powerhouse set and The Orwells’ garage rock riot, it was a great night for twisted rock’n’roll.