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Tuesday 18 January 2022

It's All Illusion Anyway

I'm following on from yesterday's Neil Young post with some Pixies and some more Neil. The first time I heard Winterlong was the cover version by Pixies on a tribute album to Neil called The Bridge which came out in autumn 1989. There was a brief rash of indie tributes to 60s artists compilations around this time- I had a tribute to The Byrds but at some point that has departed from my record collection and I remember a Jimi Hendrix one but I didn't buy that one. There were several Velvets ones too I think. They were very hit and miss. But The Bridge was well worth getting and holding onto featuring as well as Pixies, Soul Asylum, Victoria Williams, The Flaming Lips, Nikki Sudden, Loop, Nick Cave, Sonic Youth, Psychic TV, Dinosaur Jr, and Henry Kaiser. That list alone brings back the smell and feel of the Melody Maker's pages. There are plenty of good covers in that cast and Sonic Youth probably take the gold medal but Pixies absolutely nail Winterlong, Black Francis and Kim Deal duetting over some deliciously fried guitars. 


Neil's own version of the song was not released until Decade came out in 1977. He'd been sitting on it since at least 1970- apparently it was likely recorded in 1974 during the On The Beach sessions but it didn't fit on that album so he held it back. I first started buying Neil Young albums in summer 1988, taking advantage of the Price Cuts discount label that was widely available then- Harvest and After The Goldrush could both be bought new for £4.49, risk free purchases for a poor student. I don't remember getting a copy of Decade until many years later- triple albums were expensive and it wasn't easy to find. 

Neil takes Winterlong at a slower pace, his voice yearning for his lost love and the guitars and performance less manic with a pedal steel guitar in the instrumental break. It's gorgeous, right up there in terms of definitive Neil Young songs. 


There's some really good Pixies on TV clips from the late 80s, a period where they were unmissable and didn't really sound like anyone else. Surfer Rosa and Doolittle were a unique pair of albums, a band with a sound, a worldview and four very different members completely in tune with each other. The song's topics and lyrics were coming in from the outer reaches of Black Francis' imagination and together sounded like nothing else, the rhythms, the frantically scrubbed acoustic guitars, the dry, sparse sound with violent explosions, Joey's crazed solos and David's drumming plus Kim's sheer joy at playing/ singing- they had that chemistry that some bands find for a brief period that makes them briefly unique. I lost interest after Doolittle. They couldn't match it. Bossanova felt flat to me, a bit tamed, and I didn't bother with Trompe Le Monde. People tell me the re- union albums are worth getting but I don't have the interest, I don't need any Pixies albums other than Surfer Rosa and Doolittle (and Come On Pilgrim of course). They've appeared twice recently on TV programmes, firstly this clip of them playing on BBC 2's Late Show in 1989, Monkey Gone To Heaven played late at night with no audience other than Kirsty Wark or whoever was presenting that night and the camera crew.

The Late Show must have had some bookers who were well into their NME and Melody Maker at this point. Between 1988 and 1991 they were many memorable performances. The Cramps played a deadly two song set with Lux resplendent in black leather and bra in 1990, Jane's Addiction rocked out with Been Caught Stealing, R.E.M. did a stunning performance of Half A World Away and Belong in 1991, Public Enemy and Ice T both appeared and famously in 1989 The Stone Roses blew the sound limiter and as Tracey MacLeod tried to cover the show's blushes and move to the next item Ian Brown harangued the studio with shouts of 'amateurs, amateurs' eventually deciding 'we're wasting our time here lads'. 

This clip comes from British TV, not the Beeb. I'm not sure which ITV programme this was- Pixies doing Hey

While looking for all of that I found this, Pixies on Dutch TV in 1988, a five song set taken from Surfer Rosa. How good is this? Very very good.  


JTFL said...

I agree that the Pixies' best LP is Doolittle but I love both Bossanova and Trompe le Monde. They were as influential as Bowie in generating imitators. My one gripe about the Pixies is that they were surprisingly boring live. Never understood why, when they had so much great material to play and their sound was so stellar.

As for Ol' Neil...a NY/LA man don't need him around anyhow.

pyewakt said...

I was OBSESSED with the pixies and thought bossanova was rubbish. But, I listened to it again recently and discovered I knew all the words to every song and it was a lot better than I remembered.

Swiss Adam said...

I had a feeling I was going to have to revisit Bossanova after this post.

The only time I saw them live was at GMex in 1991, supported by Cud and the Real People. Memory tells me the place wasn't very full but the Pixies were pretty good. Remember nothing about Cud but years later I stood next to him at the bar at Leeds Irish Club while we both watched the Beta Band.

Khayem said...

For someone who was - and remains - behind the curve with most new artists and music, I got real lucky with Pixies and got in with Come On Pilgrim and saw them live for the first time, promoting Surfer Rosa. I was disappointed by Bossanova (but like it more now) and didn't even bother buying Trompe Le Monde in 1991, just taped a few songs I liked off my friend's copy. I've grown to love them both since, but the holy trinity for me is Doolittle/Pilgrim/Rosa, in that order. I've enjoyed the recent album but it largely feels like a different band... which, without Kim Deal and Black Francis' (primal) scream, I guess it is.

@JFTL, sorry to read that Pixies live weren't great for you. I saw them live three times between 1988 and 1990, touring the respective albums and they were fantastic each time. The venues were all relatively small: The Bierkeller and The Studio in Bristol and the Guild Hall in Preston; a few hundred capacity thereabouts. By 1991, it was bigger venues but I wasn't interested (or flush with cash) by then.

The TV clips are great: Hey was such a great song live and this performance comes close. The sight of the awkward presenter in his Fall t-shirt giving them a thumbs up reminded me of another Pixies appearance on the Night Network (regional ITV programming in the wee hours for people stumbling home pissed). I recall a show where Rowland Rivron (possibly as Dr. Scrote?) and guests would "review" a few new music videos. Monkey Gone To Heaven was one and Thurston Moore (I think Kim Gordon too) absolutely ripped it to shreds because the featured clip included Joey Santiago giving a thumbs up.

Michael Doherty said...

Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye - A Tribute To Roky Erickson and the Leonard Cohen one, In Your Fan, are absolute belters.