Pixies at The Olympia Theatre, Dublin on November 18th 2013

It’s a different band that greets us since Pixies last visited Dublin’s Olympia Theatre in 2009. Gone is original bassist Kim Deal, to be replaced on this tour by Kim Shattuck of The Muffs. Since Deal’s departure earlier this year the band released Bagboy – their first single since 2004’s Bam Thwok – and surprised everyone by dropping ‘EP-1’ out of the blue, one of a run of EP’s they intend to release in the forthcoming months.

It was always going to be interesting to see how that space stage right would hold up without Deal’s beaming presence; where once there was at least one Pixie who would engage with the crowd, this unit takes a more workmanlike approach. Interaction is replaced with a breathless run through of a peerless back catalogue, with nary a pause for breath. We wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

It seemed odd at the time – even more so in hindsight – that Manchester quartet No Ceremony should open proceedings. Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago played on their Heartbreaker track, which explains a little more, but their set is certainly at the other end of the spectrum as far as tonight’s sounds go.

All four are upstanding behind synths, keys and drum-pads while the singer wields a bass. The opening synth tone that washes over the ever-filling venue typifies their trancey, synth-pop stylings. DeliverUs takes a more percussive, power ballad route as the rest of the performance settles into a bass drum thumping, synth-heavy euro-disco malaise. The vocals form an at times grandiose counterpoint to the synthetic elements in an impressive finale, but it’s a feeling of style over substance that takes precedence.

A spacey droning whine rises from Santiago’s guitar as Pixies open with a louche overture of In Heaven, unhurriedly giving way to the first of the new material in Andro Queen. A backdrop formed from a series of reflective metallic screens adds an expansive element to the stage, with the band cloaked in darkness until the surfy sounds of the slowed Wave Of Mutilation bring with them the first of tonight’s mass sing-alongs. From this point on it’s a Pixies miscellany, with a slew of tracks getting an airing on this tour that didn’t make it on to the nostalgic reunion wagon.

Shattuck has slotted into the fold, holding her own to Frank Black’s left, throwing her head into the tracks with the odd pogo for good measure. Santiago to his right – never the flashiest of guitarists but with a technique that still causes his contemporaries to shake their head in admiration – bends along with his guitar notes, seeming to resent the spotlight that falls on him during Here Comes Your Man’s poppy riff.

He takes his moment on Vamos, coming stage front accompanied by a feedback wail, wrangling all manner of weird and wonderful sounds from the neck of his guitar. Signalling sonic flashes with an outstretched arm, it’s his guitar that unifies these songs, old and new, still as violent and textured as it ever was.

The highlights are many – a crackling Holiday Song; their routing of The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Head On; Hey, with that most perfect of guitar solos; the ‘Trompe Le Monde’ tracks that pepper the set. It is of course the initial run of records that set the sing-alongs off, but the new tracks are also rolled out, with varying degrees of success.

Blue Eyed Hexe is uninspired paint-by-numbers rock, and Greens & Blues is not far behind. The failings of the recent material are only magnified when held against a setlist like this. The most powerful moments of the night in fact come from the most restrained tracks – Cactus, and a coiled version of Gouge Away that explodes along with Black’s vocal chords.

The deafening response that greets the end of this set is rewarded with the ‘Doolittle’ album cut of Wave Of Mutilation, before David Lovering – as deft and pummelling, as and when it suits him, as he always was – beats out an extended intro. Then, all hell breaks loose from Santiago’s guitar, and the howling gale of noise that is Planet Of Sound – one of the last truly great Pixies moments – envelops the room and all in it.

With an arsenal of songs of this calibre the gig couldn’t really fail, and it’s a celebratory night in spite of Frank Black’s impenetrable demeanour. Even having a touring member in Shattuck who seems to enjoy being there more than her full-time colleagues, this is still as incendiary a gig as Pixies have played on these shores. No, this isn’t the Pixies we know and love, but it sure does sound like them.

Photos: Kieran Frost