Review: Pixies











By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

For the first time in more than 20 years, the Pixies rolled into town in support of new material.

The influential college rock quartet has now been around longer as a reunion act than in their initial stint. Reunited contemporaries like Dinosaur Jr. have released multiple new albums, making the paucity of new Pixies material – two songs – even more glaring. That changed late last year when lead singer/songwriter Black Francis dropped four new songs on an EP and followed it up with four more last month.

All but one of those songs were played when the band performed at the Midland Theater on Tuesday night. Toss in the single “Bagboy” and the as-yet unrecorded “Silver Snail” and new material comprised nearly a third of the band’s setlist. The new recordings received a mix reception online, but for the most part they worked in concert.

The appropriately noisy “What Goes Boom” blended seamlessly with the band’s cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On.” Later, in a quieter moment, Francis segued from “In Heaven (Lady in Radiator)” to “Andro Queen.” The songs were recorded 26 years apart, but sounded onstage like they were pulled from the same session.

JfDKB.St.81“Bone Machine” announced the band’s presence, and although the thumping bassline that introduced the song was familiar the musician wasn’t. Paz Lenchantin, a veteran of A Perfect Circle and Billy Corgan’s Zwan, filled the gaping hole left when founding member Kim Deal departed last June.

Lenchantin didn’t have any problems replicating Deal’s basslines, but her thin voice was often buried in the mix.The band arrived as if shot out of a cannon, blasting through the first eleven songs in less than 30 minutes.

Doing their best Ramones impression, the band rarely paused between songs and hardly acknowledged the near-capacity crowd before barreling into the next number. The songs were never rushed, but they were definitely urgent.

Some of the best moments were the demented rockabilly of “Brick is Red” and the surf guitar intro to “Ana.” Guitarist Joey Santiago got plenty of time to play with feedback during “Vamos,” one of the few times the band deviated from the recorded arrangement. A medley of “Nimrod’s Son” and “Holiday Song” started with“Nimrod” at full speed before bouncing into “Holiday Song.” A slowed-down arrangement of “Nimrod” closed the medley.

At 33 songs and 100 minutes, the band devoted plenty of time to exhume some deep cuts from its catalog, and deliver most of its biggest songs (including both versions of “Wave of Mutilation”). Francis let the crowd take over the choruses on “Where is My Mind?” and “Here Comes Your Man.” Given the band’s underground legacy, it was odd to see fists pumping in the air with every “chien” on the chorus of “Debaser,” but the quartet definitely knew how to work the theater crowd.

The Pixies first reunion concert in Kansas City was a victory lap. The second concert was a celebration of their greatest album. This third visit was a view of the Pixies as a working band, trying to prove they still have plenty to say. They do.

Setlist: Bone Machine; Wave of Mutilation; U-Mass > Head On (Jesus and Mary Chain cover); What Goes Boom; Distance Equals Rate Times Time; Ilsa de Encanto; Monkey Gone to Heaven; Ana; Brick is Red; I’ve Been Tired; Magdalena; Cactus; Gouge Away; Bagboy; Blue Eyed Hext; Crackity Jones; unknown song; Veloria; Havalena; Snakes; Silver Snail; In Heaven (Lady in Radiator); Andro Queen, Indie Cindy; Greens and Blues; Where is My Mind?; Here Comes Your Man; Vamos; Nimrod’s Son/Holiday Song (medley); Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf). Encore: Debaser; Planet of Sound.

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Review: Smashing Pumpkins, Cake

(Above: The reconfigured Smashing Pumpkins incinerate the old country with “As Rome Burns,” a yet-unreleased track.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Billy Corgan has learned to compromise. After frustrating and confounding fans with obscure songs and indulgent jams on the Smashing Pumpkins’ 20th anniversary tour just two years ago, he has struck a balance between the old (and beloved) and the new.

The unspoken agreement of Saturday’s show at Sandstone Amphitheater was one for you, one for me. Fans seemed thrilled to meet Corgan and his reconstituted Pumpkins halfway. Opening with the drum roll into “Cherub Rock,” the quartet alternated between favorites like “Zero” and “Drown” with newer numbers such as “Song for a Sun” and unreleased material like “As Rome Burns.”
“We’ve found the songs you know tend to get the biggest cheers,” Corgan told the audience before launching into “Tonight, Tonight” and he was right. “Today” provided the first big sing-along moment of the night, turned the chorus of “Bullet With Butterfly Wings” over to the very vocal throng. Even “Stand Inside Your Love,” an underrated single from the original configuration’s final retail album, drew a big response.

The 80-minute setlist ignored “Gish” but drew from every other album in the band’s catalog and a couple soundtrack contributions. Most of the songs sounded pretty much like they were recorded. The only exceptions were new arrangements of “Adore”-era material. The new version of “Adore” rode Nicole Fiorentino’s bass, and discarded the drum programming for a full band sound. “Eye” was given a trippy intro full of shimmering guitars and big, echoing drums.

Smashpumpkins_fyi_ spf_09252010_135FNewer material dovetailed nicely with the familiar. “Tarantula,” from 2007’s forgotten “Zeitgeist,” emerged seamlessly from “Cherub Rock” just as “Drown” gave way to “As Rome Burns.” “Song for a Son” had a progressive feel and guitar lick similar to “Stairway to Heaven.” It was one of several of the night’s numbers to feature Corgan and Jeff Schroeder harmonizing on twin guitar solos.

Before breaking up at the dawn of the millennium, the Smashing Pumpkins were one of the most successful bands to come from the grunge era. Corgan and founding drummer Jimmy Chamberlain reconvened for “Zeitgeist,” recruiting supporting musicians for the subsequent tour, before Chamberlain left again last year.

Corgan may be the only founding member left in the band, but the new cast proved more than capable. Twenty-year-old Mike Byrne was a monster on the drums, having no trouble replicating the complex rolls and fills that are so much a part of the Pumpkin’s sound. The band was amazingly tight and precise, slithering across the changing dynamics and textures and following Corgan’s every move.

The stage set-up was basic, but impressive. The only effects were banks of lights set up above and behind the band, constantly strobing and changing. Two large metal fans were perched atop metal towers in the back at either side of the stage. The visual arrangement kept anyone from receiving the spotlight. The band was lit as a whole and the emphasis was placed on the music.

The band exited shortly before midnight against a wall of lights pointing into the audience. They were visible only as vague silhouettes, but had long established their identity.

Cake’s one-hour set preceding the Pumpkins couldn’t have been more different. Singer John McCrea chatted with the crowd between nearly every number, espousing his views on religion, American society and the gradual disappearance of three-four time. Along the way, the five-piece college rockers delivered audience favorites “Comfort Eagle” and “Frank Sinatra” and songs from their upcoming new album.

Although most of Cake’s songs ride a slow funk groove and McCrea’s tongue-in-cheek spoken/sung lyrics, two of evening’s best numbers veered from that formula. “Mexico” sounded like a lost Decemberists track, while new song “Bound Away” was a travelogue in the form of an Irish drinking song.

Smashing Pumpkins setlist: Cherub Rock, Tarantula, Adore, Song for a Son, Today, Drown, As Rome Burns, Freak, Tonight Tonight, Stand Inside Your Love, Eye, Bullet With Butterfly Wings, United States (including the Star-Spangled Banner and Moby Dick). Encore: Zero.

Cake setlist: Comfort Eagle, Rock and Roll Lifestyle, Sick of Me, War Pigs (Black Sabbath cover), Frank Sinatra, Wheels, Stickshfits and Safetybelts, Love You Madly, Guitar, Arco Arena, Mexico, Bound Away, Never There, The Distance.

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Out of the Tar Pit Back Onto the Stage

Reunion bands: Ain’t nothing like the real thing

(Above: The two original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd and five other guys play “Free Bird.”)

By Joel Francis

When the Temptations and Four Tops took the stage Saturday night with only one original member in each ensemble, it raised questions of truth in advertising. Can a band be billed by its legendary name if only one of its musicians is an original legend?

Few bands are as fortunate as Los Lobos and U2 to have retained the same personnel since their debut. Some bands, like Wilco, have a different lineup on nearly every album.  But the reunion craze has accelerated hiring ringers to fill in for dead or uncooperative musicians.

When Journey played the Midland a few weeks ago, longtime singer Steve Perry had been replaced with Filipino Arnel Pineda, who was 8 years old when the band’s first album came out. No one complained, but Pineda’s job is essentially to sound like Perry while founding guitarist Neal Schon and the rest of the band deliver their signature sound.

Similarly, Yes were primed for a 40th anniversary tour when lead singer Jon Anderson fell ill. Rather than cancel the tour, the remaining members, who include Oliver Wakeman, son of original keyboardist Rick Wakeman, recruited a new singer off YouTube.

The majority of fans will tolerate a minor substitution. There were no grumbles when bass player Eric Avery sat out Jane’s Addiction’s second go-round. Most fans will recognize that age and time will prevent everyone from taking part. But when the skeleton of the original crew drag new faces out under the old name, it starts to take advantage of the people who kept the hunger for a reunion alive.

There’s also a slight double-standard in play. Few Beatles fans would be satisfied with a Beatles “reunion” featuring Paul, Ringo, Julian Lennon and Dhani Harrison, but The Who have completed not one but two successful (read: lucrative) tours minus the late John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Of course a true Fab Four reunion never happened, while The Who have launched a handful of “farewell” tours, but the rhythm section of Moon and Entwistle defined The Who’s sound just as much as John and George did for the Beatles.

Swapping drummers and bass players is one thing, but the road to finding a new frontman is fraught with peril. INXS failed miserably in their reality TV quest to carry on after the premature death of Michael Hutchinson. However, 14 years after Freddy Mercury died, Queen – minus drummer John Taylor – reconvened with former Free and Bad Company vocalist Paul Rogers. Many of the band’s East Coast concert date sold out quickly.

When Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger hired Cult singer Ian Astbury to hit the road as The Doors they were faced with a lawsuit from drummer John Densmore and forced to tour as Riders on the Storm. The moniker didn’t alter any setlists, but it at least let the fans know they weren’t getting the same guys that worked together in the ‘60s.

Then there are the jazz orchestras that continue to tour despite the death of their bandleader. The Count Basie and Glenn Miller orchestras draw decent crowds when they visit the area, despite Miller’s disappearance during World War II and Bill Basie’s death a mere 25 years ago. The Gem Theater will host a Jazz Messengers reunion concert on October even though bandleader Art Blakey died in 1990.

The reason why a musician will resurrect his old band with ringers is obvious: Billy Corgan will sell a lot more tickets and albums as the Smashing Pumpkins than he would alone. And while there’s no clear-cut solution, I think this is a rare example of capitalism and artistry joining forces to provide the ultimate answer.

If a band’s catalog is strong enough, fans won’t mind shelling out $30 to $50 as they did Saturday night at Starlight to hear someone else sing “My Girl” and “Baby I Need Your Loving.” On the other hand, if bands plug on minus crucial components, they might be confined to the state fair/town festival circuit Three Dog Night and the Guess Who have been riding for years.