Live Review: Pixies, The Murlocs

4 March 2017 | 12:43 pm | Benny Doyle

"We're instantly removed from Brisbane, to be taken on a twisted, acid-fuelled trip along the coast, south of the border and beyond."

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We don’t need to look any further than the rammed smoking areas to see the spirit of decades past burning bright tonight. Weathered faces are smiling; some youths are here for an education. The hill presents us with a far nicer scene than the nearby uni bar. It seems like a comfortable setting to get weird.

If they weren’t holding instruments, you’d think The Murlocs were riff-raff who’d somehow blagged their way on stage but, as it turns out, the gang can jam. The limited performance space they’re gifted with keeps things intimate, and the continually shifting vocal lines whet the appetite for what’s soon to come.

We watch as black clouds swirl in the distance, then a little smoke does a similar dance in front of some industrial-strength lighting rigs. It’s a cinematic scene for Pixies to walk out to and, as soon as they kick into gear with Cactus and The Holiday Song, we're instantly removed from Brisbane, to be taken on a twisted, acid-fuelled trip along the coast, south of the border and beyond.

Black Francis is the same tortured voice he’s been for the past 30 years. He howls and snarls, yelps and stutters — uncomfortable one moment, emotional the next. Guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering ensure every passage of every song features some flair, while bassist Paz Lenchantin lays down magic on the lower end of the scale.

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When her vocals soar parallel with Francis’ on Where Is My Mind?­ — surfing on Santiago’s lingering notes — you couldn’t imagine another bassist filling the void of Kim Deal. She crushes it during Here Comes Your Man and Gouge Away as well, her body bowing with every bending note.

Debaser is as perfect as the devoted could’ve hoped for. Lovering reminds us that he's an absolute weapon on the skins, wheeling out this crossover drum pattern that plays tricks on your eyes. The track ushers in the heaviest stretch of songs we’ve heard all night, with Francis feeling well and truly electric by now.

The frontman is having none of Havalina, however, cutting the tune early because he botched something during the intro. There’s mild shock that the legend is in fact a mortal like us. What’s nice, though, is it forces Francis to speak to the crowd — the first time any of the band have done so tonight. Shortly after, Monkey Gone To Heaven is the all-in singalong we hoped it would be, before Head Carrier and Planet of Sound add to an essential set that still has plenty of gaps.

The four band members track the stage, waving and tapping their hearts with their hands. They take a number of group bows, but don’t leave. Instead, they spin on their heels, grab their tools, and open up one last time for the jagged Into The White.

Less than 20 words have been spoken to us in 90 minutes, but there's something powerful in that. The experience shared never feels impersonal or phoned in — rather, it drives home the fact that, when the songs are great, that’s more than enough.