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Frank Black Rocks the Sunset Strip


Pixies Frontman Rocks the House of Blues in L.A.

It’s embarassing to admit now that I’m initiated, but I’m a Frank Black neophyte. Sure, in high school I had friends who’d gush about The Pixies’ stuff, but it wasn’t until after college that I started to notice the frequency with which the Pixies’ frontman would come through Santa Barbara with his Catholics band. He’d be at Velvet Jones (or its various predecessors) or Rocks on a Thursday night, but I never managed to check out those shows either. (Well, at least I don’t remember going to them….)

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It wasn’t until the notoriously don’t-get-along members of The Pixies decided to reunite a couple years ago and come through the Santa Barbara Bowl that I really tuned in. And even then, my fandom was auxiliary, a way to connect with friends who were Pixies fanatics and the necessary result of solidly original and good music. (I still have an image from the Bowl show on my cell phone, which is to say that the show made quite a lasting impression.)

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And then Honeycomb came along, a mellow album from a Frank Black who got kidnapped by Nashville. The heartfelt, brilliant tunes became my new soundtrack, and even my friends who loved his old stuff were quick fans of the album. The songs never got old, no matter how much I listened, and to this day they still tower above the double-disc Fastman Raiderman that came later. Honeycomb opened me up to the rest of Black’s catalog, and now all his songs seem sacrosanct.

Which brings me to last Friday night at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip in sunny L.A. That’s where I stood right next to the stage, my shirt wobbling from the nearby speakers, watching what my more experienced friends would later proclaim the best Frank Black show ever.

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Even I knew things were off to a good start when the pot-bellied screecher came out alone and began with “Los Angeles,” pronouncing the city’s name with the hard “g” that so many non-Californians like to use. With references to “pouring sun” and wanting to live there, Black captivated the audience, which overall seemed like they didn’t know what to expect, many just in the club for something to do on a Friday night. A young mother would later tell me outside, after calling her child’s babysitter and telling the non-English-speaking woman that she’d be home late, that she had hoped Black would do the song later. But even she agreed it was a fitting start.

The black-on-black Black, whom the young mother also noted was quite slimmer these days, continued solo for a few hits, including “Wave of Mutilation” and one off of Honeycomb. Then out came his bassman Eric Drew Feldman, guitarist Duane Jarvis, and drummer Billy Block, who he all introduced politely before they started playing. Their first song was Tom Waits’ “Black Rider,” and from there they simply lit the place on fire. We heard “I Burn Today,” “Dog in the Sand,” and “I’m Not Dead (I’m in Pittsburgh)” among many others.

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He played for what seemed to be a solid two hours straight, not even retreating before the encore, which kept the energy powerful and almost overbearing. By night’s end, even those who had wandered in just for a fun Friday night were hooked on Frank Black. It was a thoroughly perfect way to spend a weekend evening, and some of the best live music on the planet at that moment. Please, oh please Frank Black, come back to Santa Barbara.

(Photos by Joanna Yates)

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