The newly reinstated Hard to Find Showspace may have seemed like a strange place to host Black Francis at first, but there was something remarkable about hearing the rocker scream “Repent! Repent!” in an actual church during the song “Caribou.” The former Pixies lead singer and songwriter took the stage in his red-tinted glasses and casual Friday work shirt and, in front of a wall covered in stuffed animals, blazed through a massive set that sampled from his entire career. Saturday night’s sold-out concert was an opportunity to see alt-rock royalty in an intimate setting usually reserved for local talent, and anyone wanting their fix of aural road rash surely left satisfied.
Given the man’s vast catalogue, the audience could be forgiven for not knowing the words to every song, like “Los Angeles” from his 1993 solo debut, Frank Black. Perhaps because of this, the crowd remained awkwardly quiet during some of the longer breaks between songs, especially at the beginning of the show. That changed when Francis brought out a handful of Pixies classics, including “Mr. Grieves” and “Wave of Mutilation” from Doolittle, and the incest-themed “Nimrod’s Son” and the aforementioned “Caribou” from their first EP, Come On Pilgrim. Recognizing the first chords of “Where is My Mind,” a few audience members even gratefully sang Kim Deal’s “Oo-ooh” hook.
Opening act Cat OK noticed the crowd’s reticence as well. The Santa Barbara group’s frontman Rob Taylor, with his Dinosaur Jr. whine and R.E.M. shaved head, ably led his band through its catchy garage rock. But after the applause died down, the audience stood silent in the boozeless hall while the guitarists tuned their instruments for each song. Picking up on this, one musician quipped, “If you’ve liked the tuning so far, you’re going to love this.”
Francis’s show was billed as solo and acoustic, though the “acoustic” tag was misleading. Throughout the show, he switched between four vintage Telecasters, each with its own sound, like identical quadruplets with distinct personalities. With Francis liberally working the bridge tremolo and bending the necks, the guitars gave the music a classic surf and country rock feel.
Exhaustion seemed to wash over him with each subsequent song, and the somewhat sloppy renderings of the well-known numbers were befitting to this patron saint of slackerdom. At times, it was hard to tell whether he was purposely ad-libbing or just slightly screwing up. After he flubbed the closing bars of one tune, he told the audience, “Don’t clap for that. That was bullshit.” In a way, it was exactly what I wanted to see: an indie icon at his most human and personal, seemingly making it up as he went along.