Backstage at Vancouver’s grand Orpheum Theatre, Charles Thompson IV/Black Francis/Frank Black of the Pixies is in Utkatasana. Awkward Pose. No, really, that’s what it’s called. At least the part of the pose before it gets REALLY awkward, and you have to go up on your toes.
I was drinking wine, and he was showing me how far he’s come since he started practicing yoga two years ago. He looks good. Svelte. Handsome. He was trying to convince me that I – possessor of chronic illness fibromyalgia that makes all my joints scream – shouldn’t feel intimidated by hitting all the moves perfectly. I should try hot yoga, he says, it cured his muscles strains from playing too much guitar. “The first time you might be, all, like, ugh…but the key is that you have to breathe through your nose. It suppresses the fight or flight response,” he instructs kindly, and later texts me to say he’ll send more information. Black Francis has volunteered to be my “yoga nag” and I honestly don’t think it gets more rock and roll than this.
Yoga is not what I expected to be talking about to the guy who wrote “Debaser”. But then again, it’s exactly what I expected to talk about to the guy who wrote “Debaser”. Sometimes, the best conversations with musicians are the conversations that have little to do with music. Surround a man who makes music with fans or journalists who love music or want to dissect music and all you get is -sigh- conversations about music.
But give a musician a chance to remember what he’s like in addition to making music, and you see a full person. So instead we talked about many things, because Francis is being generous with his time and his wine.
We talk about his five kids and the safety codes you have to put on iPhones because of them, why he deleted his Vine and Instagram accounts (“I thought I should spend more time with people in real life, and you know, pick up the phone and call them…”), painting, coffee (he’s an espresso fanatic, so I brought him some Ethiopian beans from Vancouver’s Elysium cafe), travelling, going to college with J Mascis (“I always looked up to J cos he was making, like, these little 45s and things”) and how they now live down the street from each other.
We talked about my life – because he had been following it closely online and helped lift my spirits during a difficult time. He remembered everything. “I like your food pics!” “Your mom was in Toronto right? How’s she doing?” “Aren’t you half Danish?” “[Your ex] hasn’t signed the divorce papers yet, has he?” Then I filled in the gaps that my filtered selfies couldn’t.
And, yes, we talked a bit about music. Rather, life on the road with music. He told me that the Pixies don’t do soundchecks (“Meh, we don’t need to. When you have a good crew, it’s fine.”) and that they do “a Tom Jones” after the show. (“I read that Tom Jones used to always just go straight from the stage to his tour bus, so that’s what we do.”) They’re also the world’s most boring band, he said. “Bus drivers love us. We just get on, say hello, then go straight to our bunks. No films, no music, we just go to bed.”) Congratulate him on the huge achievement of releasing new music after so many years, and he texts, simply: “We’re tryin!”.
And still, he’s also tryin’ to convince me about hot yoga. I’ve done a lot of Hatha in my time, but Black Francis wanted me to know that hot yoga is not as daunting as it seems. It was a hard sell.
….As hard a sell as it is, a few hours later, playing new songs in front of a sold-out crowd aching for the old. Tracks from new EPs both 1 and 2 featured prominently in the set, and why wouldn’t they? NEW PIXIES MUSIC! “Bagboy” was twitchy, “Magdalena” and “Andro Queen” were beautiful and softer, “Snakes” rattled with a dustbowl twang, “Indie Cindy” and “Greens and Blues” rollicked. And “Blue Eyed Hexe”? I bow to thee, 70s rock! But make no mistake, many in the room were fidgety. (Trust me, folks, spend more time with those songs -they’re growers.) Many mainly wanted to shout “THEN GOD IS SEVEN” really loud.
And they got to. For those archaeologists digging for history, there was still plenty to unearth. ”Bone Machine” launched the two-hour set, and flowed into “Wave of Mutilation.” There was “U-Mass” and “Velouria”, a slick “Havalina”, the JAMC cover of “Head On”, “Cactus”, “Hey” and “Caribou”uuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu, too. ”Here Comes Your Man”, “Debaser”, “Where Is My Mind?” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven” were all present and their names ticked off the list.
Through it all, it was the wonderful that was the Pixies. Francis belted out loudquietloud (there’s so much power in them pipes), drummer David Lovering absolutely drove the whole thing with a skill that I’d not really taken as much notice of previously (plus, huzzah for “La La Love You”), and guitarist Joey Santiago coaxed out enough awesome to deafen me (which, I suddenly realized was happening, aptly, during “Planet of Sound.”). He even “broke out of his shell” as Francis promised me earlier might happen. During last song “Vamos”, Santiago held his guitar aloft in several of what could have been indie rock’s version of Bikram poses, mugging for the crowd and issuing forth that aforementioned universe of noise… while Francis looked on, grinning.
And for naysayers nay-sayin’ that the Pixies aren’t the same without Kim, well…they aren’t. But that’s fine, can we move on now? As yoginis will tell you, change is a part of life. And most imporatntly….touring bassist Paz Lenchantin, totally rocks. In fact, it was she who got the loudest cheer when Francis motioned to her at the end. And well deserved. If they choose to, she’s a keeper.
Above all, the songs were slick but there was still a flame there. Only not everyone saw it. After the show, at the bar across the street, I got into a debate with a fan who felt that the gig might have lacked some passion. “But, but,” I said, “I thought it was passionate! Those songs were still alive, but differently so. Okay, sure there’s no banter, but haven’t the Pixies always seemed a bit…well, restrained to watch… even when the sounds coming out were massive and aggressive?”
He disagreed. But that’s fine. Because the thing of music, the experience of favourite music played live, is so very subjective.
Yoga practitioners always discuss the concept of doing versus being. This fan wanted Black Francis to do more, connect more, but for me, I was just happy with them being all the wonderfulness of the Pixies. Still there, in front of us, when they could have stayed consigned to history. They weren’t going through motions – you don’t make new music if you are – they were being them.
The fire was there in the belly, they were just breathing it out through their nose. \m/
All photos by and with thanks to Syx Langemann. Learn more at Blackframestudios.ca
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