the obligatory nyc music blog pixies article
The Pixies, Hammerstein Ballroom, 12-12-04
There has been more virtual ink on this series of shows in the past week than any musical event in my recent recollection (except, perhaps, the f’in Arcade Fire). So there have been plenty of excellent reviews of the shows, if you are looking for a blow by blow or any other glowing accounts of the Second Coming of Black Francis.
I can’t honestly say I had this great nostalgia or longing for the Pixies to be back in my life. I mean, I saw the Pixies in real time. I don’t want to say I took them for granted, but I guess I kind of did. The first time I heard them, I thought, “Oh, wow. It’s about time someone did this, and they do it really well.” It was a logical progression in my mind. It didn’t change my world or turn my head around. It was more like, “Good, a new band that doesn’t suck.”
But I have friends for whom the world shuddered on its axis when they heard the Pixies for the first time, and that I understand. I also would never start the revisionist attitude of “Well, you didn’t see them in 1986, so you’re really not seeing them/they’re not worth seeing/you might as well go crawl into a hole and die because there is no more decent music on the planet” (and you laugh, but there are fans of every band that are like that, my favorites being the ones who lecture you that if you saw Springsteen after 1975, it was crap).
So, Sunday night, we are in the front row of the second balcony of the Hammerstein Ballroom (I overslept when the tickets went on sale, and I hate the floor at Hammerstein anyway), and the Datsuns are what feels like five miles away – it’s this utterly cavernous odd venue that serves as a soundstage, and feels more like an aircraft hangar than a concert venue. People seemed happy to be there, but for a band that sold out eight fucking nights, you would think there would have been a little more chaos and a lot more celebration. There was a lot of stillness on the floor, but maybe we were too far away to really get the vibe.
It was, shockingly (or maybe not), an awful lot like I remembered they were. I couldn’t possibly have had any major revelations. The Times review talked a lot about the 30-something audience that grew up with the band, but that’s not what I saw – the majority of people in the crowd seemed to be of the age that would have just missed them, weren’t old enough to have been there the first time around. For most of the audience, this was the first time they sang “Debaser” in public, with other people, with the band that wrote and originally performed the song doing just that right in front of them. If you grew up listening to this stuff and it did change your world, being able to finally do that is pretty powerful stuff. Some of these people had waited their whole lives for this moment.
As anyone who reads this web site or is acquainted with me knows, I go to *a lot* of concerts. I will drive distances to see them. And while there have been shows where, absolutely, I was probably the oldest person there, I have never felt OLD. I have been called old, and told with much derision that I was, indeed, old, but then responded with a lovely tale about seeing the Clash or Sonic Youth at CBGB’s or, hell, even Pearl Jam in 1995, and suddenly the cries of “y’all OLD” turn into drooling jealously.
Sunday night at the Pixies, for the first time, I felt old at a rock show.
I felt old because it wasn’t my party. I felt old because I didn’t feel the need to wait in line in the cold all day, getting takeout from the coffee shop across the street or deliveries from sympathetic friends (who think I am crazy but understand). I felt old because I didn’t have that heart pounding sensation when the doors open and I am angling to get to the front front front and not resting until my hands rest on the stage or the barricade. I felt old because for once I wasn’t part of the whirling, screaming, singing, hands-in-the-air mob writhing down on the floor in front of the speaker stacks.
Which is silly, because I go to plenty of concerts in which I am more a participant than a diehard (most of it, actually, because unlike a lot of people, I have that line in the sand because I love far too much music to devote 100% of myself to any one band), I am not always at the front of the stage and there have been plenty of times I arrived at the venue two minutes before the lights went down – and had no trauma because of it.
I felt old, and out of place (and this is the music of my generation, for fuck’s sake) and feel like a lot of my older friends who used to buy every new record that came out but now can’t keep up with anything so they don’t bother at all, I felt overwhelmed, like I didn’t understand it – which is stupid, because I absolutely DID. I knew what these people were feeling and how utterly wonderful it must have been for them, the 20-something girls next to me jumping up and down out of excitement, the little pockets of pogoing fans, the random folks throwing their hands into the air with much enthusiasm when their favorite songs were played, the 30-something women at the end of the row who had a whole little stack of drink cups lined up along the balcony edge and were dancing around and singing every word and reliving their past and being totally happy and content. I can identify with every single one of them.
But Sunday night, I wasn’t one of them. And for some reason, it made me feel old and tired and sad. And I can’t tell if it was because something great was going on and I was missing it, or if I’m sad because something great *wasn’t* going on, but everyone else was so desperate to convince themselves that it was. It felt an awful lot like the first time I saw the Stones in 1981; despite a rabid, fervent anticipation from the moment I bought the tickets until the day I walked into the stadium, I walked out of the show feeling empty, realizing that what I saw was a pale approximation, that I didn’t see the band so much as spend time in the same physical space as them, while everyone around me acted as though they had seen the Greatest Show Ever.
Yeah, maybe that’s it. Or maybe I’m just making way too much out of the whole thing.
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