Pixies at 3Olympia Theatre, Dublin

One afternoon in 2016, I necked an industrial vat of coffee and proceeded to make the case for the Quietus that, when all is said and done and hyped and re-issued, ad infinitum, Trompe le Monde was Pixies 1.0 at their most downright irresistible. Marking their shapeshifting, space-obsessed last hurrah before combusting two years after its release in 1993, it’s spent the last three decades astride its predecessor, Bossanova, as a genre-mangling snapshot of the band being indie rock’s OG mentalists par excellence. 

Eight years on, I’m more sure than ever that, for all their relative dearth of Kim Deal, it’s on those two albums where the band’s rarest alchemy was committed to tape. They may never dominate an HMV window display quite like Doolittle but for every college mixtape led by surrealist salvos such as ‘Debaser’ and ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven,’ there will always be the heads who vibe that little bit harder with a ‘Blown Away’ or ‘Letter to Memphis’. There’s no “better” or “worse,” of course, but the gradient that spans the band’s oddball biblical fuckery and their latter-day extraterrestrial ecstasy hits in different ways. If you know, you Navajo know.

Not even the surprise announcement on March 4 that long-time bassist Paz Lenchantin had parted ways with the band after a decade could sidetrack the sense of occasion at the Olympia for the second of a three-night run saluting albums three and four. With former Band of Skulls bassist Emma Richardson stepping into the shoes that Lenchantin herself stepped into back in 2014 (those of the late Kim Shattuck, who herself had stepped into the year before), there’s no shelving this celebration of the brilliantly batshit places those two records dared to tread.

While there was a real “changing of the guard” feel to the aforementioned Kims tag-teaming in 2013 when Richardson, Black Francis, Joey Santiago and Dave Lovering pace out to rapt applause tonight, there’s the curious sense that absolutely everything is under control.

He may have been decidedly Dylan-esque in his dislike of stage patter over the years, but, trademark wraparound sunglasses donned, the man born Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV leads a change of pace from the outset. Casually riffing on it being a Surftones’ cover, Francis cues a fierce rendition of Bossanova opener ‘Cecilia Ann’. The surf-rock instrumental has always landed a punch, but it’s a performance that signals that the warped, wonderfully nuanced wanderlust of Bossanova isn’t set to be phoned in for a payday.

Sure enough, ‘Rock Music’ confirms that, eviscerating via Francis’ full-throated scream (how in the absolute Christ he can manage it, at 58 years old, all while looking more badass than a trillion Tom Waits’ rolled into one is anyone’s guess.) As for ‘Velouria’—a song that irrevocably altered the course of this attendee’s life, which you’ll likely appreciate if you were ever a teenager, with a family computer room and access to Soulseek—it’s faithfully forlorn, from its crawling opening shapes to the supreme heart-tug of its closer. Sure enough, the night-two crowd between the hallowed walls of the Olympia is very audibly smitten.

Where ‘The Happening’ and ‘Hang Wire’ pry open timeless harmonic troves, it’s the album’s more restrained efforts that deliver its purest peaks. From the besotted ebb of ‘Ana,’ to the tripped-out fever of LP closer ‘Havalina,’ it all doubles as a reminder that for all their mercurial Sturm und Drang early on, there’s just something in the band’s more hallucinatory hybrid of surf and space rock that mines that little bit deeper.

And that’s all before a grandstanding, UFO-obsessed masterpiece dials up the frisson. Introduced by Black Francis, who tonight seems the most at ease fronting the band since their reunion 20 years ago next month, the title track from Trompe le Monde is a complex, supremely erratic statement of intent that, live, verges on exhibitionist. And isn’t that the point? In pace and precision, blitzing cosmic-punk paeans like it and ‘The Sad Punk’ couldn’t ever be excusably performed anything close to half-assed.

With Joey Santiago landing close-to-note-perfect labyrinthine phrases that you almost certainly need to have written to execute so accurately, Dave Lovering—arguably alt-rock’s most distinctive drummer—is his usual powerhouse self throughout. With fresh line-up changes percolating in the back of one’s mind, there’s simply no world where Pixies could thrive as they have since 1986 (yes, with a noted gap) without the literal magician, otherwise known as the Scientific Phenomenalist behind the kit. The Scientific Phenomenalist.

In a breathless runaround where who’s playing bass and what decade we’re in feels smudged into sublime insignificance, ‘Letter To Memphis’ and ‘Space (I Believe In)’ safely stand out. Where the former finds Joey Santiago in full-blown celestial shredder mode, the latter—which, crazily, received its live debut the night before from the same stage—serves all kinds of interplanetary bombast. As does ‘Alec Eiffel’. You could spend a Varadkar’s annual salary on Panzer-like confetti guns and launch a hundred giant hamster ball-encased Wayne Coynes into tonight’s crowd and it would only approximate the joy of intoning “Oh Alexander, I see you beneath the archway of aerodynamics,” over and over, with a few hundred giddy heads.

On record, the essential power of Trompe le Monde is how breakneck one track zooms to the next. Knowing its effect all too well, Francis wryly half-apologises mid-way through for the brief pauses to accommodate guitar changes. Yes, a few muscle memories might take a slight hit, but it’s a small price to pay seeing as a) each song is honoured in a way that simply would not happen if Francis settled on one Telecaster throughout and b) for a 15-track tear clocking in at under 40 minutes, every additional moment in the presence of its creators feels special.

And that fully extends to Emma Richardson, too: Black Francis’ shout-out to the bassist at the tail-end of her second-ever show with the icons is met with a response that strongly suggests that she is the sturdy, believable and refreshingly less—for want of a much better term—Kim-coded person for the job. That cannot be easy to do and she is duly rewarded by Dublin tonight.

But, as the age-old saying goes, they can’t all be zingers. Commencing a three-song encore with the debut airing of a brand new song is brave enough; starting it with a brand new song as almost impressively forgettable as ‘Vegas Suite,’ especially after two albums packing in more hooks than a lifetime’s subscription to Fisherman’s Weekly is quite another (to be fair, though, the latter point really does bear repeating. Maybe the placement was just a little too abrupt? Kind of like sticking on a song from that U2 album they forced onto people’s iPhones immediately after ‘Starless’ by King Crimson?)

Anyway, a delicious brace of slo-mo gems ‘Wave of Mutilation’ (UK Surf)’ and ‘Where Is My Mind?’a song most people would struggle to resent even if they were fated to watch Fight Club every day for the next 30 yearsreduces any momentary doubt to matter fainter than space dust. 

As an admirable portion of the crowd toddles in a daze out of the Olympia towards Brogan’s to recalibrate, one’s mind darts back to catching Pixies—Kim Deal in towopen their Doolittle 20th Anniversary tour in the same venue back in 2009. Yes, it felt somewhat different tonight. And, yes, it may be a small lifetime since the hero in question helped define a certain magic, never quite to be repeated or outdone, but tonight, a deafening ovation crowns an experience that will, in time, be remembered as very special in its very own way. Brian Coney

Photos by Sean McMahon

is the editor of The Thin Air. Talk to him about Philip Glass and/or follow him on Twitter @brianconey.