August 18, 2010
@ Great American Music Hall
Better than: Black Francis/Frank Black playing with a bigger band.
started his performance last night with an invitation to come along with "The Black Rider" -- and the introduction of an 80-year-old pump organ as accompaniment. For those more accustomed to the Frank Black and the Catholics
version of the song -- all biting guitar and heavy percussion, last night's rendition got the Tom Waits treatment. Thanks to the aforementioned pump organ, the Great American Music Hall turned into a slightly macabre circus cabaret, and Black Francis took us on a 90-minute journey.
For the newbies, Black Francis, nee Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV, was the lead singer of the Pixies
until their early-'90s breakup. He began recording solo as Frank Black and the Catholics, and then as Black Francis. The Pixies reunited in 2003 and are touring the US again in September.
On this solo tour, Black Francis is revisiting his classics in "acoustic" sets -- even though he plays an electric guitar. Last night's felt reminiscent an episode of VH1 Storytellers. Everything was more mellow and intimate. It may not have been a high-energy night, but fans came because they trusted him for the ride. Black Francis got up there in a faded black T-shirt with a hole, played whatever he wanted to, and the crowd responded with air drumming, awkward seat-banging and full-on lip-synching along.
Black Francis is known for his ability to flit through genres. With nothing but his guitar, a backing bass/pump-organ and a small drum kit, he served up country-tinged songs like "Horrible Day" and numbers that sounded like contemporary indie-rock, 90's rock, and blues -- but everything carried the Black Francis trademarks.
On the really hard-rocking tunes, Black Francis never lost his signature yelp. He roared through "Bullet" and the Pixies' song "Nimrod's Son" with as much venom and vitriol as ever, which is necessary when proclaiming, "you are the son of a motherfucker."
While some songs, like "Los Angeles" and "Manitoba" started to drag on, a good number of them sounded better in their acoustic form. "Cactus" went from a trippy rock song to a growling sexy, blues number. Much like that aggressive mini-skirted groupie blocking my view, I might be sending Black Francis my dress.
"I Heard Ramona Sing" benefited from tales of about keeping up with the hard-partying Ramones, the menudo references, and from a slower and, dare I say, sweeter sentiment. It may be because I now equate this song with the Scott Pilgrim vs. The World soundtrack -- but Black Francis calls the new Michael Cera action-nerd flick "that movie I'll watch on a plane one day," so that was most likely nostalgia coming through on my part. I felt it again during Dead Man's Curve, and I swear that song could be described as pretty the way that he sang it last night.
The night felt like a clip show episode, a montage that exists to remind you why you liked the work so much in the first place. Black Francis ended with two beloved numbers: the Pixies' hit "Where is My Mind" and his own riotous break-up tune "Can't Break a Heart and Have it."
Both were solid enough to get this aging rock star a genuine standing ovation -- and convince me that he isn't going to burn out anytime soon.
As far as openers go, political satirist Roy Zimmerman did a decent job warming up the crowd. Songs about socialism and Prop. 8 aren't always everyone's jam, but the "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" singalong at the end made a good-natured crowd even better-natured.
Overheard in the crowd:
"Thanks for dressing up, guy." -- Concertgoer about Frank Black's old t-shirt-and-jeans combo.
Last night's audience largely consisted of fans of Frank Black and the Catholics, fans of Black Francis, and fans of the Pixies, all of whom cheered within the first three notes of a song. Many were excited to share concert stories and band facts with a first-time Frank Black concertgoer. Did you know Black Francis disbanded the Pixies by a fax? Oh, you did.
Note to the kids in the crowd who made their Dads leave before the last number:
My dad took me to a Yanni
concert when I was your age; appreciate your musical education and flexible bedtime.
The Black Rider
Nimrod's Son (Pixies Tune)
Horrible Day (foray into country)
(I Want to Live on An) Abstract Plain
I Heard Ramona Sing
Planet of Sound (Pixies Tune)
Dead Man's Curve
Dog in the Sand
Where is my Mind?
Can't Break a Heart and Have It