The Pixies and Modest Mouse Rock Chicago

by Anthony Kuzminski

Wednesday June 19, 2024 - Huntington Bank Pavilion at Northerly Island- Chicago, IL: Outdoor concerts can be a blessing and a curse during the summer months largely due to weather conditions and the venue but the Pixies and Modest Mouse show at Chicago's Northerly Island (Huntington Bank Pavilion) lucked out as sweltering heat slowly began to recede for one of the sites biggest shows of the year, Modest Mouse and the Pixies. While they have been touring together for a while, the Chicago show marked one of their biggest audiences in several years proving their musical legacies are alive and well.

Modest Mouse performed a brisk 70-minute set that the crowd ate up. With the venue at near capacity, lead singer and guitarist Isaac Brock was dressed in a suit, despite the sweltering heat, delivered a high-octane performance no one will forget. The spiderweb guitar riff of "Dashboard" had everyone on their feet proving that Modest Mouse were more than just an opener, but an act where the majority of the audience were in their seats for and cheering along for the entirety of their thirteen song performance. Midway through their set, they delivered an impressive cover of the Cure's "A Forest", a watermark for the alternative movement that's over forty years old, but the band shaped it into a modern and fascinating performance. The latter part of the set was where the band pushed the crowd to the next level with the shuffling from "Black Cadillacs" to "Float On" which found the audience swaying and singing along to every word making non-fans become fans. The band closed with the bopping rhythms of "Tiny Cities Made of Ashes" and the hypnotic distorted volume of "What People Are Made Of" which left the audience wanting more.

The sun had just set and the Pixies took to the stage under the Chicago skyline and with as soon as the Beatles "You Know My Name (Look Up the Number)" intro music ended, they launched into "U-Mass" from 1991's Trompe le Monde. Band leader, Black Francis, was standing center in a opened dark collared shirt with his Gibson guitar and as the clenched-jaw guitar riff of "U-Mass" set the stage for the next 80-minutes. Throughout twenty-four songs, the Pixies tore through the catalog with all the verve and grit you could ever expect for any band, let alone a band in their fifth decade. The punk rock rush of "Isla de Encanta" the howling "The Sad Punk" and the perfection that is "Monkey Gone To Heaven" were all delivered in quick and unrelenting fastidiousness. Watching the set fly by you in the blink of an eye is nothing new to the punk aesthetic but outside of clubs and playing to a crowd of over eight-thousand people is another feeling entirely.

One of the hallmarks of every Pixies show is you never know what will unfold over the course of the show because every show has a uniquely different set list. You may not always see every song you want to see, but you will witness every song you need to see. The Pixies have a new bassist in tow for the 2024 tour, Band of Skulls' Emma Richardson, who joined the band three months ago. Richardson served the material well grooving and replicating Kim Deal's bass lines immaculately and showed her prowess instantly on "River Euphrates" as her bass thundered off the stage showing the current incarnation of the band, still a four piece, is as tight as they've ever been and yet they still have a playful rowdiness and brought full-on distortion as they rolled into "Wave of Mutilation."

The middle part of the set, when lead singer/guitarist Black Francis strapped on an acoustic, was the most ferocious part of the set. It may have not broken the sound barrier or featured screeching instruments, but the band had a deep focus that was impossible to shake. "The Navajo Know" from Trompe le Monde, "Mr. Grieves" from Doolittle, "Vamos (Pilgrim)" from Come on Pilgrim, and "Motorway to Roswell" from Trompe were all performed in succession and this mid-section showcased the band at the peak of their powers. While much attention has always been given to the Pixies for their soft-loud arrangements, their midtempo songs carry the same command and fervor as their screeching punk masterworks. Guitarist Joey Santiago flexed his mastery on "Mr. Grieves" while drummer David Lovering wrought the band through "Vamos" with his propulsive snare hits. Some of the best moments of the night featured Black Francis on acoustic where he captured different hues compared to his fiery electric, which signed brightest on "Motorway to Roswell". The musicianship was top tier, with the type of camaraderie that can only come with decades of performing together. The piercing middle section was the heart of the show with the band flexing their powers at full force.

Late set highlights included "Cactus" (which David Bowie covered on his 2002 Heathen album), "Caribou", "Hey" and the show stopping "Where is My Head?". The Pixies have always been a stellar band and as the years have passed, their powers have not diminished. Their intense sets involve a push and pull with the audience through their dynamic musicianship. The four band members lock in and deliver nothing short of remarkable. While the Pixies are a reminder of the punk aesthetic, their in-your-face and unrelenting performances are every bit as primal in 2024 as they were in 1991 showing the Chicago audience that their story is still a work-in-progress and they are still writing chapters each and every night on the concert stage.

Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He has seen over 1,000 concerts in his life and has been writing about music for more than twenty years. He can be contacted at thescreendoor AT Gmail DOT com and can be followed on Twitter

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