Having endured torrential rains and five-plus hours of driving to see The Cure at the Blossom Music Center near Cleveland just the night before, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to drag myself out of the house less than 24 hours later for another night of live music. But the allure of a solid triple bill combined with the venue being less than two miles away this time had me falling back on my credo of “always go to show.” And so I did.
And for the most part, I’m glad. Bully (pictured below) led off the cross-generational line-up with a short set of songs mostly from the just-released Lucky for You. It had been a couple of years since I had seen the band in a headlining role just down the street, but the vitriol that had fueled that set was still intact. Led by principal Alicia Bognanno, for whom Bully is as much a nom de plume as a band, the four-piece tore into the new songs with a certain ferocity, but there were pop hooks also at the surface that heretofore had been buried in grungy layers. Similarly, Bognanno didn’t rely solely on her obstreperous yowl but instead allowed its softer underbelly to reveal itself at times.
When Franz Ferdinand (pictured below) took the stage, you could tell they were ready for action. Singer/guitarist Alex Kapranos was dressed in some sort of military jacket, the admiral poised to lead his troops through a frenzied set of prime cuts from the band’s catalog. The band is ostensibly on tour for a greatest hits album, last year’s Hits to the Head, and with the Glaswegian group choosing to not play anything from its admittedly middling last studio record, 2018’s Always Ascending, the setlist was a crowd-pleasing selection of tracks from its first four albums highlighting their invigorated updating of post-punk grooves. So after the first ruminating verses of “Jacqueline,” it was off to the races as Kapranos commanded, “It’s always better on holiday… that’s why we only work when we need the money.” With the band keeping pace behind him, the frontman at turns strutted and jumped in the air out of pure exhilaration. Songs like “Darts of Pleasure” and “Michael” were electric, so much so in fact that by the time the big hit (“Take Me Out”) arrived, it didn’t seem so much a climax as just one standout in a stellar set. And indeed it wasn’t the dramatic finish; three more songs followed with FF finally finishing up with “This Fire” from their self-titled debut, its jagged riffs and refrain of “This fire is out of control. I’m going to burn this city, burn this city,” ending the performance with a definitive exclamation point.
By the time the Pixies (pictured top and below) took the stage, the sun had gone down and the band seemingly emerged out of the shadows as Paz Lenchantin plucked out the familiar bass lead-in of “Gouge Away.” Contrasting sharply with his Franz Ferdinand counterpart, frontman Black Francis showed little movement as the band subsequently delved into more cuts from its backpages. The first third of the show could have been a setlist from 30 years ago, as they stuck to tracks like “Bone Machine,” “Planet of Sound,” and “Caribou” from the initial Pixies run. Of course, judging by the response, that’s what the crowd wanted to hear, and the Pixies seemed more than willing to oblige, despite having now been around in their reunited form twice as long as their heydays and having put out an equal number of records. It wasn’t until 11 songs in that they touched on Doggerel, the new record that they’re on the road promoting, running through a block of four songs from the album. Even if I’m being generous, it’s not a great record, and the live cuts did nothing to dramatically change that opinion.
After tackling “Death Horizon” from 2019’s Beneath the Eyrie, the headliners returned to their bread and butter, banging out another 13 songs from their iconic works, eventually finishing up about two hours after they had begun. One got the feeling that it had taken the first half of the gig just for the band to get warmed up, as it was during this latter portion of the show that Francis and his bandmates seemed to find their stride, no longer just going through the motions, but finding that wrinkle in time where all that matters is the convalescence of their noisy emanations. For me, that place was “Nimrod’s Son,” which possessed the off-kilter freneticism that first made the band so great. I also appreciated that they played the UK Surf version (a.k.a. the slow version) of “Wave of Mutilation” after already playing the album version, showing that quietude can be as powerful as volume. Another of my credos is that a band should never end with a cover, but here their rendition of Neil Young’s “Winterlong” couldn’t have been more perfect, a sort of galliant ride into the sunset even if the sun had set hours ago.