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The Pixies greet Northampton with earth shattering rock and roll

(Will Fresch/ Flickr)

“Age is nothing but a number.” When this adage is issued as proclamation from a parent or grandparent, a sassy eye-roll is usually warranted in response, because it is safe to assume that Grandpa won’t be pumping out as many straight pull-ups as he did when he was in high school, or that Mom and Dad’s current enthusiasm for Thursday night bingo is a far cry from their unspoken-of college party shenanigans. However, this past Wednesday night, Sept. 20, in Northampton, at Smith College’s John M. Greene Hall, a sold-out audience experienced that adage first hand. Age was just a façade when the Pixies took the stage to play non-stop earth-shattering rock and roll while forgoing any time to even gasp for air between songs.

Lead singer Black Francis became hypnotically immersed in the music around him from the first audible chord, never taking the time to make any references toward the crowd, allowing the music of the Pixies to do all the talking. To his right, guitarist Joey Santiago wielded his guitar like a wizard with his wand, pouring out magical bends, distortions and feedbacks into the audience’s rock-thirsty ears. Drummer David Lovering led the Pixies’ relentless song-playing pace with percussed symbol and tom-tom poundings that shook the very floor beneath the feet of awe-inspired onlookers. To finally complete the Pixies’ trademark rock sound, new bassist Paz Lenchantin sang her soul into the microphone while strumming catchy notes to the delight of every fan below.

It was thirty long years ago that the Pixies formed in Massachusetts—after Francis and Santiago met while attending the University of Massachusetts Amherst—to release their groundbreaking first record “Come On Pilgrim.” Like flames that can never go out, the Pixies have not lost the pace in their live-show experience. Despite the fact that three musicians in the band are above the age of fifty, the Pixies graced Northampton with one of the most exciting and energetic shows that anyone is likely to find among bands either new or old. In total, the Pixies performed in continuous succession thirty-two songs. Black Francis would whisper into his microphone the song of his liking, and the rest of the band would, in unison, follow straight into the music. Audience members who felt a particular affinity toward an individual Pixies album were quickly pleased to hear tracks from each of the band’s studio records.

The only element of Wednesday night’s show that some may have found upsetting was the venue itself. John M. Greene Hall may be perfectly suited for a lighter genre of music or theater performance, but the lack of a general admission space took away from the energy of the crowd. Seats before each audience member were bolted into the ground, which provided non-optimal vantage points to view the stage from, and created an awkward spatial distance between each fan. The ideal rock show experience is to be able to feel the energy of the crowd through close proximity, and John M. Greene Hall therefore dampened the riveting energy that could have been otherwise emanating forth towards the Pixies from the crowd. Nonetheless, these nuances of the music venue were mostly forgotten after the Pixies took the stage, since they were that good. Though the audience was not enjoying the show in physical unison, the emanating essence of the Pixies’ powerful rock and roll perhaps placed audience members in a quasi-spiritual state of a united experience.

The Pixies’ Northampton show proved that age is nothing but a number. The energy that they bring to their live sets may far surpass any currently touring band, and certainly any from their generation of punk rock music. So, if the next time you see your grandpa and he’s suddenly doing pull-ups, or the next time you catch a group of parents putting away the bingo to do some unruly heyday things at local Amherst parties, don’t be surprised. If the Pixies are still rocking this hard, then maybe they can too.

William Plotnick can be reached at wplotnick@umass.edu.

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