Monkey Gone To Heaven

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There are few bands who totally change the way you will forever hear music.  Bands that are literally ground-breaking for a generation. 

Whilst I know that is true for me, I’ve never really thought about it for previous generations and, yet, I guess people feel that about Dylan, The Beatles, The Stones, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix, The Who or Black Sabbath – a belief that music had never sounded like that before.

My defining moment was in a friend’s garage in the late ’80’s.  The door was open as the rain fell outside and we dismantled skateboards replacing bearings amidst the smell of sawdust and WD-40.  The sound belting from the, sticker covered, Ghetto Blaster was “Surfer Rosa” by Pixies.  The way that album opens was unlike anything I had ever experienced.  The drums of “Bone Machine” sounded just like a real drum kit, like the sort of kit I might get to bash on – not the clinical production of some huge studio.  The guitars and vocals and shrieks were absurd and invigorating. 

Who WAS this?  WHAT was it?  Who would manage to persuade a record company to RELEASE something like THIS?  Wow! – this had gotten my attention like nothing in AGES.

So began my adoration of Pixies.  Their career ended in acrimonious circumstances in 1993.  Even in 1996 I clearly recall simply wishing there was a new Pixies album or gig to look forward to and a realisation that that was never likely to happen.  So, I tried to see Frank Black play live and was always disappointed – apart from at The Liquid Room in 2001 when, after an awesome support slot from Aereogramme, Frank Black and The Catholics pulled out a great show which sent shivers down my spine when they even included a few Pixies tracks – something unbeknown prior to 2001.  People dreamed and rumours started about what it would look like if Pixies were to reform?…Kim deal squarely crushed any such notions…

In 2002, one of Kim’s other bands, The Breeders, seemed to come out of hibernation (or re-hab) and released the lo-fi album “Title TK”.  They toured the record in early summer 2002 and I saw them play a blinding show at Glasgow’s QMU.  Plenty of great tracks from the “Last Splash” album were played and I thought it’d be the closest I’d ever get to seeing Pixies live.

The indie music loving world went bananas in 2004 when the unthinkable was announced – Pixies were reforming for some live dates (and a shed load of money – hence the “Pixies Sell Out” tour title).  I spent hours in vain trying to get tickets in ebay for their London shows.  They then announced an appearance at T in The Park that summer.  I saw grown men nervously pacing all day long and practically worshipping as this genre-defining band blasted through what seemed like hundreds of short tracks like a firing squad.  It was one of those gigs where you sing every word and can’t believe you’re getting the chance to experience something so awesome…

Then in 2005 they returned to Edinburgh for the T at the Fringe gig at Meadowbank with support from My Latest Novel, the wonderful Teenage Fanclub and Idlewild.  Another brilliant show with my lasting memory being the “oooo -oooo”s of “Where Is My Mind?” echoing from the crowd around the stadium and floating above the stage lights into the warm darkening summer sky…

So here we are in 2009.  Pixies return AGAIN –  this time to celebrate 20 years since the release of “Doolittle”.  After a warm up from homegrown talent in the form of Sons and Daughters and a noisy DJ set whilst the roadies set up the stage, the house lights faded and we watched extracts from “Un chien andalou” (“An Andalusian Dog”), a film Salvador Dalí and prolific filmmaker Luis Buñuel collaborated on in 1929.  The band stood silhouetted on stage watching it for at least 5 minutes before actually breaking into song. 

I think we all expected “Debaser” as the opening track and were caught off guard with “Dancing The Mantra Ray”, followed by another 3 B-sides: “Bailey’s Walk”, “Weird At My School”; and “Mantra Ray” before they actually then dissected “Doolittle” itself. 

It felt like they were teasing with us.  There was a time when the prospect of even seeing Pixies play a bunch of B-sides seemed unfathomable.  But, now, with a series of re-union gigs behind them, I set aside my purist tendencies – I wanted the songs I really loved…

Boy, can Pixies play live.  Whilst the set seemed to have awkward gaps between songs as the video-backdrop seemed to cue up, the songs still stand the test of time and the band nailed each one perfectly.  The biblical violence of the lyrics, Black Francis’ screams and yelps and Kim Deals sugary soft vocals…

Once “Doolittle” was played in it’s entirety the band left the stage.  They returned for an encore of two more B-sides; “Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf) and “Into The White” before decanting again.  It was great and, yet, I was desperate to hear more from the other albums and, particularly, “Surfer Rosa”.  Sonic Youth had delighted us with a long set of songs arching their back catalogue after dispensing with the jewel of playing “Daydream Nation” in its entirety on it’s 20th anniversary tour a few years back.  Would Pixies offer us the same delicacy?

The band came back onstage again, the house lights went up and Kim referred to the infamous gig that occurred the last time Pixies played Glasgow’s SECC in 1991 when they had to abandon matters three songs into a set as the stage began to buckle from the frenzy of the crowd.  Here we were – the people who had grown up forever changed by the music they blessed us with back then.  It’s a long time since I’ve seen torrents of crowd surfers, let alone, fully grown 40 something year-olds reliving their youth.  But that is exactly what happened.  The band blasted into an other bunch of songs all from “Surfer Rosa”.  With the video backdrop ditched and the house lights up, there was hardly time to draw breath as they lept from one wall of noise into another.  It was only when they seemed free of the shackles of adhering to an album in it’s entirety that their true genius as a live act was fiercely released upon us.  I’m not sure when my hearing will recover. 

What a great band…Thanks for getting the ticket sis’.

Will there ever be a bridge as great as:

“If man is five, if man is five, if man is five,

Then the devil is six, then the devil is six, then the devil is six, the devil is six…

And if the devil is six, then GOD is seven,

Then GOD is seven,

Then GOD is seven.

This monkey’s gone to heaven”.

From “Monkey Gone To Heaven” by Pixies. 

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"The priest in the booth had a photographic memory for all he had heard. He took all of my sins and he wrote a pocket novel called "The State That I'm In"". From "The State I Am In" by Belle and Sebastian
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