Last night I went to my first $50 concert. I went of my own free will, so I only have myself to blame. I knew in advance that the venue was the DAR Constitution Hall, a seats-only theatre that would be better suited to basketball games. I also knew that The Pixies would be playing their 1989 album ‘Doolittle,’ from start to finish in correct running order. And I could probably have guessed that as I looked down at the audience from my seat at the back, I’d see more barren pates bobbing around than at the Slaughter of the Slapheads, the brutal, climactic face-off in Roland Emmerich’s apocalyptic movie, The Battle of the Bald, where two clans of ageing, wild, shiny-headed warriors fight it out for the world’s last remaining hairpiece.
For years The Pixies were shy about reuniting, but the commercial pickings as they approached retirement age became irresistible. You can’t blame them for tapping the surplus income of the generation whose indie attitude has been turned into loose cash. Buy a ‘Doolittle’ hoodie for $60 (and hide your lack of hair). You can pay another 25 bucks upfront for a copy of the concert on double CD, to be picked up on your way out back to suburbia. There’s probably a deluxe version of ‘Doolittle’ available by now too, and a vinyl reissue, and a remastered boxed set with added b-sides. The b-sides, by the way, are what we kick off with, because the album’s not very long. Fans love b-sides. Well, real fans love b-sides. But that’s okay, because the hall is apparently full of real fans, all supplying a wave of adulation.
This is payback time, because I used to tape all the Pixies albums off my girlfriend back then, so this is the first time in my life I’ve ever paid them a cent. It’s their due, because I did get a lot out of ‘Surfer Rosa’ and ‘Doolittle’ especially. More than I got last night, where they rushed through side one of the album, scratching out brash, sub-standard versions of great songs. I wouldn’t have minded at all if they’d stretched out ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’ to 15 minutes, but there was no re-imagining of the work. Perhaps they know their audience wants it served up pretty much as it was in 1989. Only not as good.
Although the performance of side two, and the inevitable encores, were a huge improvement on side one, there was no escaping the fact that you were getting a package, and that the gig was a mere step above puppetry - I was so far from the stage, it could have been a tribute band for all I knew. I tried not to think about the spitting, righteous contempt I had for people of my parents’ generation who used to go and watch the Rolling Stones at huge outdoor concerts in the early 80s. And now post-punk is posting it in too. Noise and posturing turned into a steady career, and what’s wrong with that? At our age we all know the cost of health insurance. If 3,700 people are happy (and they are happy - a lot happier than me) to be packed in to a venue where you can only get Heineken in plastic cups that you can’t even take to your crummy, cramped seat, then who am I to go bellyaching on for five paragraphs?
Looked at from an artistic point of view, however, this trend of touring classic albums is gutless. It’s like getting the players from Italy and Brazil’s classic encounter at the 1982 World Cup to replay the game with the same skill and speed they did almost three decades ago. And asking me as a fan to feel the same excitement. ‘Doolittle’ was 1989, and always will be. Perhaps my generation will be listening to it in twenty years time and saying, “Ah, this reminds me of the 2009 reunion tour. Just after my second divorce and before the back operation.” By then I might have enough disposable income to bin my cassette for the fortieth anniversary reissue edition.