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Music Blog

Concert review: Black Francis at The State Room

by Dan Nailen
- Posted // 2011-07-16 -

While the band that made him famous, The Pixies, are content to play the same set each night on their various reunion tours, a Black Francis solo show is an exercise in unpredictability. And that's a good thing.

The surprises started right away Friday night at The State Room, when instead of a "solo, acoustic" show that his publicists had advertised, the enigmatic frontman arrived with an electric guitar and a friend to play some keyboards and bass guitar. Again, the switch was a good thing, allowing Black Francis to flesh out the radically reworked songs delivered over the course of nearly two hours.

He started the show with a quick run-through of a few Pixies songs, and while he assured the adoring crowd on hand to worship at his alt-rock altar that he wasn't doing that just to get the Pixies tunes out of the way quickly, that clearly was what he was doing. As he joked, "only my membership in the indie-rock club keeps me from doing a medley of these songs," (or something along those lines).

Even with Black Francis' preemptive dismissal, the Pixies tunes were thrilling to hear, from the show-opening "The Holiday Song" from the band's Come On Pilgrim to the dramatically rearranged "Velouria" to the long-time fave and instant singalong "Where Is My Mind?" "Mr. Grieves" and "Caribou" were also part of the opening salvo of Pixies tunes.

Black Francis marked the shift into his solo catalog with a dramatic (and clearly off-putting to some) rendition of Tom Waits' "Black Rider." From that point on through about two dozen songs, he touched on virtually every album he's released since the Pixies' initial split in 1993, including his solo albums, collaborations with other artists and his albums leading Frank Black and the Catholics.

"Los Angeles" thrilled many of the long-time fans on hand, as did "Superabound" and "(I Want to Live on an) Abstract Plane." The arrangements were, generally speaking, far more bare-bones than the songs' recorded versions, but Black Francis made up for the lack of drums and slick production with that unmistakable caterwaul of a voice. It's an instrument that can veer from deep, sonorous performances to high-pitched squeals and shrieks, and it was in fine form Saturday. Likewise, his guitar-playing was easier to focus on in such intimate environs, and he shifted from delicate picking to aggressive riffing through the night.

Among the other highlights Friday were "I Heard Ramona Sing," his tribute to The Ramones, "Ten Percenter," "I'll Be Blue" and the late-set addition of another Pixies fave, "Nimrod's Son." 

In the end, the unusual arrangements didn't work for everybody who showed up; there was a noticeable flow of people exiting before the show's end who weren't quite prepared for Black Francis' dive deep into his solo catalog. But for those who've spent the past quarter-century as hardcore fans of his work--whether solo or with the Pixies--seeing him in a small venue, doing exactly what he wanted to be doing instead of flogging the old hits, it was a real treat.

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Posted // July 18,2011 at 10:50 I went to see Frank Black last night here in Salt Lake City. I get the
impression Frank/Francis/Charles has a lot of fans like me: loved the
Pixies, loved the first solo album, liked the second one (Teenager of the Year), didn't bother with the third one (the Cult of Ray),
dipped a toe in the Frank-Black-and-the-Catholics pool, but didn't get
wet; but still likes the guy, and would pay $25 to go see him live.

The
opening act was David Williams, a singer/guitarist who sounds a lot
like Lyle Lovett, looks a bit like Charles Manson (as some highly
disrespectful audience members loudly pointed out to him). His set was
very low-key--a la Mazzy Star--with a few very impressive acoustic
guitar solos.

Frank and long-time collaborator
Eric Drew Feldman hit the stage and immediately addressed the
proverbial elephant in the room--the Pixies. He started the set alone on
his familiar cream-colored Telecaster with a handful of favorite Pixies
songs in order to "scratch that itch" right off the bat. He also said
that his oath as an Indie Rock star precluded him from doing them as a
medley (huge laughs). He kicked off the Pixies segment with "Mr.
Grieves", then "Velouria", although when he played the wrong chord
shortly after starting, he segued into "Monkey Gone to Heaven", as if he
was starting a Pixies medley (more huge laughs). He also played
"Caribou", "The Holiday Song", and, much later in the set, a lurching
version of "Nimrod's Son".

He and Feldman
transitioned into his Frank Black material with his cover of the Tom
Waits carnival barker number "the Black Rider", and then a stomping
version of "Los Angeles" and "Ten Percenter" from his first solo album,
and "I want to Live on an Abstract Plain" from Teenager of the Year.

He
and Feldman joked about a song that was prominently featured in a
recent movie that no one went to see (it was the phenomenal "Scott
Pilgrim vs. the World"), and then told a story about how years ago he
went to Puerto Rico for six months with a handful of homemade cassettes,
only one of which turned out to contain any music, with was by the
Ramones. The single cassette of Ramones music turned out to be all he
needed there, and years later, Joey and the Ramones were so touched by
Frank's song "I Heard Ramona Sing" that they took Frank on tour with
them.

At this point he wandered into
unfamiliar territory with songs I hadn't heard before, but had titles I
could pick out from past setlists: "Superabound", "Sir Rockaby", "Big
Red", "Calistan".

Was this fan disappointed
that he didn't play such fan favorites as "Old Black Dawning",
"Headache", "Freedom Rock", "Men in Black", or "Czar"? Hellz yes. Did it
make me want to track down those albums I ignored? Nope. It was a great
show though.

 

 
 
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