There are drawbacks to performing an entire album live in concert — even for the Pixies, who unfurled 1989's groundbreaking Doolittle on Wednesday in the first of three sold-out nights at the Hollywood Palladium. "You can't skip it if you don't like any of the songs," bassist-singer-chatterbox Kim Deal noted onstage with a blissful grin. "You have to listen to all of them."
The reunited Pixies began a nine-city U.S. Doolittle Tour this week in Los Angeles, marking the 20th anniversary of their alt-rock classic. Its intense mix of sonic dementia and soaring pop melody was brought to life in a 90-minute set filled out with memorable, if overlooked Pixies B sides from the same era, beginning with the heavy thump of "Dancing the Manta Ray," the thrashing Spanish guitar of "Weird At My School" and the blistering, spooky surf sounds of "Bailey's Walk."
Before stepping onstage, the Pixies began with an unexpected screening of the 1929 surrealistic silent short Un chien andalou, with its notorious images of a sliced eyeball, severed hand, a man in nun's clothing and other provocative visuals to warm a Pixie's soul. It was directed by Luis Bunuel, the subject of the band's raging "Debaser," which opens Doolittle with a shriek of madness and release from singer-guitarist Black Francis: "Got me a movie / I want you to know/slicing up eyeballs . . .!"
Like the Doolittle album, the performance Wednesday was an unsteady balance of darkness and light, from howls of unease to the warmth of "Here Comes Your Man," as the band's faces were spread out on the big screen behind them, goofing in black and white like the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night. After some sci-fi gibberish from Francis on "Dead," Deal announced happily, "We're still on the first side" of the album.
During "Monkey Gone To Heaven," fans raised their hands in the air, holding up five fingers, six or seven, as a wailing Francis ranked humanity's mysterious place in the universe: "If man is 5 . . . then the devil is 6 . . . then God is 7!" The sly guitar interplay on "No. 13 Baby" between Francis and lead guitarist Joey Santiago was as simple and gorgeous as ever, and "Silver" was a haunted, dustier duet between Francis and Deal, before "Gouge Away" closed the album's 15 songs with Francis' vocals whispered, rasped and roared.
For the first encore, the Pixies returned for a dreamy, unhurried B side version of "Wave of Mutilation (U.K. Surf)," as Deal and Francis harmonized together as road-weary spirits and Santiago riffed into the ether like a postpunk Santo & Johnny. That soon gave way to a billowing cloud of white fog onstage for an explosive "Into the White" as Deal droned, "Go, and you'll go real far/Just past the big quasar," while drummer David Lovering pounded an anxious beat and the guitars slashed and burned, sending surf sounds tumbling into the outer limits.
For the night's second encore, the Pixies reached further into the past, with a trio of their raging early indie-rock tunes, retaining their edge and madness more than two decades later. Deal rasped through "Gigantic" (from 1988's equally influential Surfer Rosa) amid mad strumming and oscillating guitars. And Francis sang calmly within a swirl of tension and madness of "Where Is My Mind?" before the Pixies closed out the night with final howl from Deal that was eerie, unpolished perfection.
"Dancing The Manta Ray"
"Weird At My School"
"Wave of Mutilation"
"Here Comes Your Man"
"Monkey Gone to Heaven"
"La La Love You"
"No. 13 Baby"
"There Goes My Gun"
"Wave Of Mutilation (UK Surf)"
"Into the White"
"Isla De Encanta"
"Where Is My Mind?