The Ones That Play That Doolittle
In my younger and more artistically militant years, I baulked at the very notion of bands reforming. Old folks realising their creative juices had run well and truly dry and exhuming past glories for one last pay day before shuffling off into the sunset of relevance.
Predictably, this attitude has altered somewhat as the bands I loved in my youth have regrouped for a swansong or two. Whatever the merits of such reformations, it's difficult to deny just how enjoyable they can be. In the past few years alone I've seen Blur, Rage Against The Machine, Madness, the Pixies and even Elvis' TCB band from the 70s knocking out the classics to the backdrop of the King's image and vocals, and every single one of those experiences has been an absolute joy. Having already done the Pixies thing back at T in the Park in 2004, was there really any point in dulling the memory with another trip to bonnie Scotland to take in the Glasgow leg of their mini UK tour?
Ordinarily, perhaps not. But this was part of a mini-tour to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of Doolittle, arguably the band's best album and certainly their most celebrated. Crucially, for me, it was this album that made me first fall in love with the band. When my brother had it on rotation in his bedroom, the warped strains of songs like Debaser, Dead and I Bleed lured me into realising that music could be something primal, exciting, weird, dark, joyful and magical. In the summer between me leaving primary school and starting secondary school, it felt like I was also graduating in terms of musical taste. No more INXS thanks, plenty more Pixies please. When we all had to read out what we did in the summer holidays on our first day in first form, I proudly announced that I had discovered a band that would change everything. Everyone else might have been more impressed with someone else's tales of a trip to Disneyland, but what did they know? Enjoy your Kylie and Jason, you fools!
So now, 20 years later, here I was in the uninspiring setting of the SECC in Glasgow waiting to see the band who had perhaps inspired me the most. They had not lost their capacity to surprise.
Out of the darkness, a projection screen spluttered into life. It was showing the silent movie Un Chien Andalou made in 1929 by Luis Buñuel, with a little help from Salvador Dali. The black and white was filtered with red to add to the menace, the screen was split into five sections to hurry the pace of the narrative and the classical music accompanying it stirred anticipation of something epic about to happen. Dave Lovering wandered onstage, visible through the shadows, and simply turned round and watched. Slowly the others joined him, first Joey Santiago, then Black Francis, then Kim Deal. It was the film that inspired Debaser, and informed a lot of Pixies artwork. David Bowie had used it as his warm-up act in the 1970s and the Pixies had chosen to repeat that trick here. It was working. It made us ache for the killer kick of Kim's bass guitar that signals the start of Doolittle. And then it came...
...the chiming chord that signals the start of Dancing The Manta Ray, a B-side.
Those of us who hadn't been checking the set-lists from the Dublin shows over the previous few days on the internet (and we'll have more on those who had later) were visibly bemused. A quick trawl of the farther reaches of the brain turned up a certain logic, with Dancing The Manta Ray being one of the B-sides on the Monkey Gone To Heaven single. A cracking tune no doubt, but what next? Well, another Monkey Gone To Heaven B-side, Weird At My School. Suddenly, it began to make sense. A B-side prelude. At this point I became almost inexplicably excited at the prospect of hearing Bailey's Walk performed live, in front of my very eyes and ears.
And there it was, in all its bizarre glory, followed by probably their best B-side, Manta Ray. Then, just when I thought she would treat us to Into The White, Kim announced that we were going to start proper. The prelude was over. Doolittle was coming.
As I'm about to demonstrate, it's very difficult to describe the rush of emotions conjured by hearing that opening bassline to Debaser that night. Obviously there was an insanely giddy excitement, a child-like glee brought on by the thrill of those particular notes in that particular order, of the joyfulness of the drum fill that introduces the rest of the instruments to the equation. But I feel that when I play it on my car stereo, or hear it in a club. This was different. It signalled the start of something you knew you would never again experience. These four people in the same place as you, playing this album you love to bits, in full, in sequence, right now. It was almost too much to bear. No sooner had the last note faded than your thoughts turned to what you knew was coming next - the crack of a snare and the menacing whisper "Got hips like Cinderalla..." THIS IS BRILLIANT!!!!!!!!!!!!!
On and on it went, the cycle of one brilliant song followed by the brief but all-consuming anticipation of the next, followed by the brilliance of that song, followed by... well, you get the picture. The genius of this format, (particularly for reformed bands who ordinarily churn out the greatest hits) is that you hear songs played live that ordinarily wouldn't be aired. That goes double for B-sides. Realistically, this was the only opportunity you'd get to dementedly bark like a dog along with Black Francis during Crackity Jones, the only time you'd get to see him and Kim Deal break out the heart-melting harmonies of Silver together. These were moments to be savoured, so savour them we did. It went out, as we knew it would, with the twisted chorus of Gouge Away and thousands of voices as one reminding ourselves that we could "stay all day, if you want to". We wanted to.
The band re-emerged after several minutes of sustained hysteria to finish off the Doolittle B-sides, serenading the crowd with the chilled out, 'UK Surf' version of Wave Of Mutilation and then waving their goodbyes with a cacophonous take on the magnificence of Kim Deal's Into The White. And that was that. Or at least, it was for some.
Scores of fans streamed out, satisfied with the remarkable spectacle they had just seen, but savvy enough to know that they could soak it all up on their way home through slightly less congestion that those who were foolhardily standing clapping, whooping, hollering and gurning with joy at what they had just seen. They had checked the set list from the Dublin show the previous night see - B-sides, Doolittle, couple more B-sides, thank you, goodnight. Besides, the house lights were up, so what was the point in hanging around imploring four undoubtedly exhausted old musicians to magically reappear?
Well, because it just might happen and, after what seemed like an age but was probably about five minutes, it did. Kim Deal, who had been on chatty form all evening (giving us updates on how we were progressing through the album - "we're now halfway through side two"), explained that they had some unfinished business in Glasgow since the stage collapsed when they played the Barrowlands in 1990 and the gig had to be abandoned. In a nod to her own age, if not that of the audience, she exhorted us to "go tell your moms and dads we finished the set". They certainly did, rattling through a fair chunk of Come On Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa and finally bidding us farewell with the glorious Where Is My Mind? after a coin toss between Black Francis and Kim Deal to decide the song. Everybody won.
I didn't recover my own mind for several hours afterwards. What an incredible band. What a vital album. What a fantastic night. For anyone who left early and missed the musical equivalent of an injury-time winner, I give you You Tube, but it's not quite the same...