This was a promising night, the final concert of the Hollywood Bowl’s season, a sold-out-18,000-people night, but a weird night too, with an eclectic line-up: Cat Power, Gogol Bordello, and the Pixies! Who would ever think these three bands would fit one day on the same bill? Who would think people would be interested in acts as diverse as Chan Marshall and her soulful, heartbreaking songs, Gogol Bordello and its punk-circus party, and the Pixies with their weird post-punk anthems? I was totally interested and had a great time at the Bowl.
It was a weird night because the majority of the people were here for the Pixies, and I was wondering how they would receive Gogol Bordello and Cat Power….it worked, more or less, but it wasn’t the fault of the performers. The Bowl is a place for old people, I am sorry to say this but it’s true! Everyone who can afford the super seats sits in a ‘box’ and is having a fancy dinner with wine and candles, and everyone who can’t afford a super seat sits up there on wooden benches, way further from the stage, and has dinner too, it is just less comfortable and fancy. I had a bench seat but I just couldn’t resign to get there, so I stayed standing in the alley just above the good seats… sometimes some security people would tell me I couldn’t stay there, so I’d move a bit, but the benches are just too far away from the action…. The Bowl is a beautiful place but it doesn’t fit very well with acts like Gogol Bordello, I want people to spread their glass of expensive wine during ‘Start Wearing Purple’ and not eat a sushi plate or some Trader Joe’s take-out… when Eugene Hütz is haranguing the crowd I want people to scream with him, jump and have fun and I don’t want them to shush at me because… well it is the bowl, a fancy place for distinguished people! Oh, I hate this precious, dinner-obsessed audience, how can they still be seating? This couple next to me should have taken a hotel room instead of these two seats, they were absolutely not interested in the music, just occupied by the selfies they were taking all night long…
I arrived just when Cat Power had taken the stage, since the show had an early start (7 pm) and I stopped in the alley to watch her backed up by a full band this time, playing an ascending tune… I didn’t recognize all the songs she sang, but I have to say that she is not interested in performing them the way she has recorded them, and for this reason, she is always an interesting act. There are many other reasons to love her of course, there’s her smoky voice, the passion she puts in these sad melancholic ballads that kills you more several times per minute, and the bizarre pirouette she makes while throwing roses to the crowd before leaving the stage… usually audiences thank performers, but Cat Power can stop thanking hers, ‘Fun night, thank you for inviting me,’ she said very humbly at the beginning. Wearing a red and black Canadian oversized shirt, she had abandoned the blonde hairdo, and she did a few of her own songs, ‘The Greatest’, Cherokee’, ‘Manhattan’, with a band sounding delta bluesy or more Dylanesque, but also some very transformed covers like ‘Oh! Sweet Nuthin’/Shivers’, which I am sure the original authors would not have recognized, then made a new song of ‘Sea of Love’… But Chan could sing anything she wants, there is so much heart each time, so many personal feelings that I would still be ready to hug her every time she walks on stage with that awkward walk and effusion of love and heartbreak. She is a unique performer that I put in my special book of people who don’t really belong to this world,… I love her.
Very shortly after Chan, the large Gogol Bordello band invaded the stage and delivered a rowdy, furious show. I have seen them many times before, and I don’t think these guys can have a bad day, Eugene Hutz is always at the top of his game as the madman circus ringleader, and everybody follows in a chaotic but very orchestrated choreography. Not too many eccentric or adventurous moments happened during the set, no giant drum riding in the middle of the crowd, no wine splashing over the crowd – I was hoping for Eugene to crash in the middle of these dinner tables but he behaved accordingly! They knew they were performing at the legendary Hollywood Bowl, and they wanted to win as many people as possible, playing their old and most electrifying songs, their most famous gypsy punk anthems…
Honestly, at this point, I thought that they were stealing the show, they actually stole a good part of it, a difficult task for a Pixies-devoted seating crowd, but they were fantastic despite the static environment. Usually, it’s moving everywhere, it’s impossible to stay in the pit at the risk to be crushed by crazy girls wearing outfits matching Eugene’s and it’s a madhouse…Of course, the Bowl crowd was calmer – although many people dare to stand up and dance – but the stage was buoyant of energy, and Eugene and his large band were exploding in a succession of dynamite-like songs about immigration and debauchery, playing greatest hits like ‘Ultimate’, ‘Not a Crime’, ‘Wonderlust King’, The Other side of Rainbow’, ‘Last One Goes the Hope’, My Companjera’, ‘Immigraniada, ‘Start Wearing Purple’… As he was removing layers after layers to end up naked, Iggy Pop style, Eugene was holding his guitar in the back, looking like an adventurer without frontiers, decided to conquer the entire world with his incomparable swagger and frenzy.
Then the Pixies had the night for themselves and they probably reached everyone’s expectation. They were loud and furious, they played hard with a magnetizing intensity and did essentially all their greatest hits… yeah there were so many crowd-pleasers!! ‘Bone Machine,’ ‘Wave of Mutilation,’ U-Mass,’ ‘Hey,’ ‘Gouge Away,’ ‘Caribou,’ ‘Nimrod’s Son,’ ‘Here comes your Man,’ ‘Monkey’s Gone to Heaven,’ ‘Debaser,’ ‘Tame,’ ‘Vamos,’ as well as the set closer ‘Where is My Mind’… It was a big night for classics and 90s nostalgia, I saw many fists in the air, and suddenly it was as if people were reliving some powerful memories, good or bad, it didn’t matter. Of course, the name Kim Deal was probably on every lip, but their new bassist Paz Lenchantin was totally fine to me, even bringing some youthful element to the group, after all, Black Francis/Frank Black is almost 50… Don’t get me wrong he still gets it, he can still scream like a beasty mad man, and the bombast and the aggressiveness of old songs (‘Nimrod’s Son’, ‘U-Mass’) worked like a dream… I had always wanted to hear loud profanity screamed at the bowl, and this is a thing done! It is amazing how all these weird songs with surrealistic lyrics and punk distortion resonated so much into so many people… There were a few new songs (‘Bagboy’, ‘Magdalena 318’, ‘Indie Cindy’, Greens and Blues’) but the stars were the oldies, and especially odd loud ones like punk-circus ‘Crackity Jones’ and punk en Espanol ‘Isla de Encanta’… If a lot of the Pixies songs are sing-alongs, this is where I like the Pixies the most, Francis screaming like a monster, and the rest of the band sounding like genius weirdos.
Just before ‘Isla’, they announced that their debut album ‘Come on Pilgrim’, had been released 27 years ago, this same day… a perfect occasion to go wild and smash most of the songs of the EP. And they totally unleashed some wilderness during ‘Vamos’, stretching the song forever, thanks to Joey Santiago doing a lot of scratching with a drum stick among other things, then after ‘Where is my Mind’, they waved at the crowd for a long time as if it was the big grand finale… The last time I saw them, they didn’t do an encore but the Bowl is something else than the El Rey theater, and despite the outdoor lights starting to shine and people already leaving their sets, they came back for ‘Planet of Sound’.
The Pixies still managed to stay loyal to their unique sound, mixing new and old songs, blowing the sky of the Hollywood hills, while indulging in some real nostalgia… All the greatest hits? This almost sounded like an adieu concert, although nothing close to this was said during the show… the music was so intense after almost 30 years, and the sound so ageless that I am pretty sure there will never be any Pixies’ adieu.
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