September 24, 2010

The Pixies, and theories thereon

The Pixies and their doppelgängers (from left: The bald one, the fat bald one, the other bald one, the fat one that's a woman)

There are a handful of albums that I feel like I know so well that I know every single note of music on the album; that if you dropped me into the album at any point, I could hear exactly what comes next before the sound even came out. Albums I've heard so many times as a whole album straight through that the album in its entirety becomes an indelible mark on my brain. The Pixies' Doolittle is one of those albums.

Joey had a copy my freshman year at BYU, and we had to have played that whole thing from beginning to end at least 200 times. There were some nights where I feel like I heard that album five times in a row. (That album and Camper Van Beethoven's Key Lime Pie were the two albums I think I heard the most that year. In fact, you could probably take this entire blog post and replace "the Pixies" with "Camper Van Beethoven" and replace Doolittle with Key Lime Pie and still have it be about as accurate). Even after I no longer lived with Joey, it took me a long time before I finally broke down and bought my own copy of Doolittle since I didn't think I really needed to. I knew every note already.

So, I was already familiar with the Pixies before that year, but that album really made me into a big fan. Alas, as was the case with so many of the bands I liked, the Pixies broke up (in a very big way) before I could ever see them play live. This was sad, but eventually I got over it and learned to accept it. Then, in 2004, the unthinkable happened. The Pixies reunited for a handful of shows, then a full fledged tour. There was a time in my life when I would have been driving cross country if necessary to see one of those shows, but being married with kids has kind of made that kind of thing a lot less likely. So, since the Pixies were never playing anywhere close, I would just find bootlegs on the internet and live vicariously through other people's concert experiences.

Luckily, instead of breaking up again, the Pixies have continued to tour off and on. This year, they were coming to Mesa Amphitheatre (only a 90 minute drive), coming on a Friday (meaning it's a lot easier to find a sitter for the kids because I can just leave them overnight with someone), and coming right after Becki's birthday (meaning I can justify the expense as a birthday present and throw in a hotel room to make it a romantic weekend getaway). To make it even that much better, this is their Doolittle tour, where to celebrate that album, they play the entire album straight through from beginning to end, throw in the B-sides, then finish with a couple of other hits.

So, of course it was a fantastic show. As were walking out of the amphitheater, I was wondering if this was better or worse than it would have been had I seen the band 20 years ago. Since I hadn't seen them then, I can't say for sure, but I'm pretty convinced that this show would have been better, and I'll tell you why:

The band looked genuinely happy to be playing together.
I'm sure that since tensions ran high in the band for quite a while in the old days that it would have shown in their playing somewhat. Just a guess on my part, but it seems easier for older band members to overlook the little things that would have bothered younger musicians. Also, when you spend a long time without something that you really liked, and you get it back, you tend to not let little things threaten to take it away again.

The band looked genuinely appreciative of the audience.
Same as above. None of these guys really played to audiences like this in their other interim projects, and even during the heyday of the Pixies they struggled to muster up these kinds of crowds. They're clearly making more money playing to more people than they ever did when they were active before, but they went without that for long enough that they're obviously very happy that we all showed up to make that happen.

The audience was very obviously thankful that this opportunity even exists. Seriously, probably 95% of the people at that show didn't have the chance to see the Pixies in the old days either because of circumstances or because they hadn't become fans yet or hadn't been born yet. So, we all got a second chance and are respectful to the band at the concert to show them that.

40 year olds are generally much better behaved at concerts than 20 year olds. There are some drunk people at every show that try to ruin it for everyone, but the drunk jerk contingent was proportionally less well represented at this show. Same with the pushing shoving people. All else being equal, I like going to shows with people who know that their enjoyment of the concert needs to not somehow prevent other people's enjoyment. (There's one weird difference in favor of the kids though: When I went to concerts as a kid, they were just constant clouds of smoke. You'd come home smelling like an ashtray, and that's just the way it was. You accepted that as the cost of seeing live music. With indoor smoking bans, it's been a long time since I've been to a show with any smoke at all. This show was outdoors, and it was just as smoky as any of the worst smoke filled venues I've ever been at. I've been to other outdoor shows with hardly any smoking, though, and the only difference I can see is the age of the crowd. These people tonight are the same people who were smoking at the shows 20 years ago, and they just haven't quit. Outdoor shows with a young audience don't have smoke, probably because the kids there never started smoking. There's a valuable lesson and some good news in there somewhere.)

The band is tighter and are generally better musicians than before.
After the band broke up, all the members played a lot of music with a lot of different people in a lot of styles. They all practiced up some, and that reflects in their playing.

I get to not drive straight home.
The band doesn't get credit for this. It's just nice that I'm old enough that I can afford to stay in the hotel right next to the amphitheater so that I can just walk over to the show and walk right back instead of having to deal with waiting an hour to get out of the parking lot and drive a couple more hours home.

So, while I'm on the subject of theories, there's probably a whole other blog post to be made out of trying to formulate a theory that would explain why I only see old bands. Maybe because I like the older crowds? Maybe because I just can't get into the new music as much? Maybe because these kids won't get off my lawn? I don't know, but off the top of my head, here are all the shows I've seen in the last ten years (I'm sure I'm missing a few, though, and these are definitely not in order):

Badly Drawn Boy (twice)
Elliott Smith
Peter Murphy
Weezer (where I was clearly the oldest person there)
The Samples
Cracker (four times)
El Vez (twice)
Spinal Tap
Joe Jackson
Ben Folds
Robyn Hitchcock (once solo, once with the Venus Three, and where both times I was the clearly the youngest person there)
No Doubt
Café Tacuba
Nitzer Ebb
Trachtenburg Family Slideshow Players
Gogol Bordello
American Music Club
Camper Van Beethoven
They Might Be Giants

Badly Drawn Boy was right after the first LP, and again after the second. The Trachtenburgs and Gogol Bordello had been playing maybe 5 years by the time I saw them. Café Tacuba had been around a while but hadn't yet peaked (and possibly still haven't). Elliott Smith had released his last album and was playing one of his very last good shows when we saw him (Election Day 2000). Ben Folds is a weird one, because this was after Ben Folds Five, but before any solo record came out. I'm still leaning towards the solo career being a demotion from the band career, so I'm going to mark him as being on the downslide. Everybody else on this list was at least 10 years into their career, and on a definite downward trend career wise. This isn't a judgement on them. Some of them, like the Pixies, were playing their best shows, or releasing their best work. They just had long since peaked popularity-wise.

So, I only mention that because I can't figure out whether this is a problem or what the problem might be if there is one. I've got tickets to see Robyn Hitchcock again tomorrow. But he plays Tucson so often I feel like he's local and no longer counts in my list. I saw that School of Seven Bells is coming next month. I bought both of their albums, and really dig them (think Cocteau Twins with some of the shimmery guitar replaced with beats), so I might try venturing out to see a new act for a change. Other than that, you'll probably find me down at the state fair or at the casino watching whatever thirty year old band is playing over there.