Black Francis parked his bus Wednesday in front of Radio Radio and gave a performance that probably satisfied contractual obligations and most of the audience, but proved short on surprise or excitement.
Starting just after 10 p.m. and finishing exactly 90 minutes later, the Pixies frontman strummed a cream-colored Fender and proved that time has not dulled the edge of his trademark howls. He was accompanied on organ, electric piano and bass guitar by art-rock veteran Eric Drew Feldman, who otherwise maintained a Teller-like silence.
They opened with Frank Black & the Catholics’ “The Black Rider,” Francis toying with a cartoonish German accent as Feldman played churchy organ chords.
“I’m feeling kind of religious right now,” Francis said, comically sinister behind red-lensed sunglasses.
Punctuated by just a handful of Pixies tunes (“Cactus,” “Nimrod’s Song,” “Where Is My Mind?”), the setlist drew primarily from the Frank Black era (“Los Angeles” and “I Heard Ramona Sing” among the highlights). The capacity crowd seemed happy just to be in the room with their indie-rock icon, especially for a lowball $16. Fans applauded solidly and sang along when the mood struck.
But even though Francis brought more than 20 songs to the party, he didn’t bring the rock ‘n’ roll, and maybe that’s OK for a show billed as “solo acoustic.” The lack of drums sapped energy from the classic material, however, and the consistently moderate energy level showed little thought for pacing and dynamics. The two musicians — just a few days into the last-minute, low- budget road trip — lost their place more than once.
“It’s all part of the song,” quipped Francis, who shared a couple stories but otherwise limited his stage patter to polite acknowledgements.
After a couple warnings that the end was near and an encore was unlikely, the duo closed the night with the road-weary folk tune “All Around the World,” a staple of Francis’ live shows. Local singer-songwriter and guitarist-at-large Vess Ruhtenberg opened the evening with a half-hour solo acoustic set that sampled his own prolific catalog but also featured an ambitious reworking of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town.”