The Pixies Fort York, Toronto ON, September 20

The Pixies Fort York, Toronto ON, September 20
Photo: Shane Parent
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The Pixies and Toronto have had an interesting relationship this summer. Back in June, the band was meant to open a big outdoor show for Robert Plant, but when he fell ill, the Pixies quickly arranged a club show at the Horseshoe Tavern. Local fans are still buzzing about that special night, but a much larger crowd got to see them as headliners of the closing night of TURF.
 
They were treated to an adrenalized 90-minute set that confirmed that the group's rep as icons of alt-rock is thoroughly deserved. While most groups closing in on a 30-year-long career seemingly inevitably become mellower and more complacent, Black Francis and co are made of sterner stuff. After striding onstage minus fanfare, they launched into "U-Mass," and for the first half of the show, they hardly paused for a breath, ripping through their riffy gems with fierce intensity. Live, the Pixies sound a lot punkier than on albums that were given a studio sheen ("Planet of Sound" was a good example here). The band are a well oiled machine these days, but happily, they don't mind squealing the tires and upping the revs too.
 
Francis still possesses one of the best yells in music, and he was given rock-solid support from drummer David Lovering, guitarist Joey Santiago, and bassist Paz Lenchantin. The newest member, Lenchantin may lack some of Kim Deal's charisma, but she eagerly exhorted the crowd to clap along at some points and her vocals were solid. Santiago's invaluable contributions to the band's trademark wall of sound are sometimes undervalued, though he caught the audience's attention with some over-the-top showmanship near set's end (the old playing guitar behind your head trick).
 
No such flamboyance for the rather taciturn Francis. He spurned any attempt to engage with the audience, so it came as almost a relief when he cut one song short, telling Lovering, "Sorry David, we have to do something else, something to get my frustration out." It's unclear what was the source of said frustration, but it didn't affect his performance.
 
Things quietened down just a touch when Francis swapped the electric for an acoustic guitar towards the set's end, but the intensity remained. Pixies classics reprised here included "Head On," " Monkey Gone to Heaven," "Wave of Mutilation" and "Caribou," but sadly there was no shout out for Tanya Tagaq on the latter. A curfew meant no encore was permitted, but set closer "Where Is My Mind" left the fans happy. Judging by the wide smiles and slightly goofy waves and bows to the crowd at the end, the band was in a similar state.