One of the hallmarks of iTunes festival is the often curious billing. For every genius pairing (Janelle Monae and Chic, anyone?) there are strange juxtapositions, slightly bizarre movements through style.
On paper, NO CEREMONY/// are a fine choice to support Pixies. The band’s recent debut album evoked the spirit of walking through Manchester in the rain (in the 80s) and their brooding melancholia is the inverse of howlin’ Black Francis.
Yet here, live, it’s more than a little flat. Perhaps the vast expanse of the Roundhouse is simply too much for their music but NO CEREMONY/// simply fail to capture attention. Sure, the songs remain bristling, post-punk gems but the performance, the delivery, is a little short.
Pixies aren’t Pixies, not really.
There’s the real, physical sense: the band are older, and much-loved bass player Kim Deal has turned into Kim Shattuck. But then there’s tangible sense of dis-location: a band out of time, a living, breathing artefact re-creating elements of its own past.
Yet within seconds of the band emerging onstage all is forgiven. Pixies have always been about the physical, the emotional rather than the logical. Theirs isn’t a manifesto based on political standpoints, but a careering, nightmarish journey through post-hardcore riffs and stream of consciousness vocals.
Gently teasing the band through ‘Wave Of Mutilation’ Black Francis is resurrected. That animalistic snarl is in place, with the fabled quiet/LOUD dynamic ripping through the Roundhouse soundsystem. A career spanning set, it’s the standouts, the Big Moments which ironically do most to break through the veneer of retrospective.
‘Where Is My Mind?’ remains the most puzzling crowd pleaser of all time, while ‘Bone Machine’ is vicious, savage, disgusting. It’s a bizarre – occasionally amusing – sight to witness the Roundhouse resound, arms aloft, to the sound of something as surreal, almost nonsensical as ‘Velouria’.
However it doesn’t last. The new material is greeted with almost universal apathy, with the band’s role being stripped from epic-force-of-nature to mere reformation. It’s a subtle, yet palpable shift: at their beast Pixies can still howl at the moon, but – given their victories – it seems such a shame for them to be tamed, turned into house animals when they could be stalking the woods at night with bloodied teeth.
But it’s definitely not the same without Deal.
Words: Robin Murray