Pixies' shows in Manchester in the late 1980s at the International and International II are the stuff of legend and we never believed we'd see them in such intimate surroundings again. However, a 9am Monday morning alert set up their smallest show anywhere in years on the hottest day of the year in the five-hundred capacity Band On The Wall packed with devotees who reveled in a forty-one song two-hour career spanning set that will be talked about for years.
It's only two weeks since Pixies played to an audience a dozen or more times larger than this at Castlefield Bowl so them coming back to play this show, from which ticket proceeds support the venue's charitable arm, is very much a surprise, but in times of those being mostly unpleasant ones, there's a real sense of anticipation as they take to the stage at eight o'clock before launching into a set that never felt like it was going to end, not that anyone wanted it to, a relentless onslaught of songs predominantly from the Come On Pilgrim / Surfer Rosa / Doolittle eras but which covered the whole of their career up to and including this year's singles Human Crime and There's A Moon On plus a first play of three songs from Doggerel.
The band seem incredibly relaxed and on good form, there's a false start at the beginning of the set where Joey loses track of where the song comes in before being gently ribbed by Frank and the intuitive connections between them that allows them to determine their setlist on the hoof as the show progresses is very much in evidence, perhaps heightened by the fact that most of the room is closer to them than was possible on the barrier at most of their shows. We get to see close up the little interactions, the way Joey uses the plug on his guitar as an instrument, the sheer joy on Paz's face throughout - and even if they still say nothing to us, other than a wave before the end of the final Bone Machine and a valedictory set of bows after it, it feels like we've been allowed further into their world than we've ever been before.
There's moments in their best known songs - Here Comes Your Man, Monkey Gone To Heaven, Gigantic, Wave Of Mutilation, Debaser and Velouria in particular - where the audience threaten to drown out the band, but Band On The Wall's impeccable sound system, crystal clear and without doubt the city's finest, ensures that we still hear every little detail in Joey's guitars, Dave's precision drumming, Paz's basslines and that astonishing gutteral roar and scream in Frank's voice that feels just as ferocious, if used more sparingly, than it did all those years ago. There's none of the predictable set build here, the order feels random and spontaneous, but it never disrupts the flow, even when they take on the newer less familiar songs which intersperse the crowd favourites.
As they finish on the dream duo of Levitate Me and Bone Machine, eschewing their most recent set-ending and possibly best known song Where Is My Mind, there's a sense of stunned awe in the room, a feeling that we've witnessed something truly special that's unlikely to be repeated. Pixies made their name and reputation in rooms like this over three decades ago and tonight they proved that this is still where their heart and soul lies even if necessity drives them to bigger spaces. We could write an essay, or more, on their influence, directly or indirectly, on every single meaningful guitar band since, but you know the score.