Pixies, Mission of Burma / Hammerstein Ballroom / Dec. 13, 2004
by Douglas Wolk
"You like that band, right?" said my friend's date at the Mission of Burma/Pixies show at Hammerstein Ballroom last night after Burma went off stage. "What do you like about them?" Well, I said, they've got amazing songs, which you couldn't hear tonight. And they have an unbelievably great guitar player, which you couldn't hear tonight. Also, they have an extra, offstage member who does really interesting subtle things to their sound with tape manipulation, which you couldn't hear tonight.
The problem was that the Hammerstein's sound was way, way, WAY too fucking loud, and mixed so badly that all you could hear was vocals and the bassiest drums in the kit. Clint Conley clearly couldn't even hear himself--he sang the entire first verse of "Academy Fight Song" in the wrong key. I love that song, but I love the one that starts "walk into my room/ask me tricky questions," not the one that starts boom-a-BOOM-a-boom-a-BOOM-a-boom-a-BOOM-a. If there was any dust on my clothes before the show, there's not any more.
This was one of the loudest shows I've ever seen--right up there with My Bloody Valentine and the My Dad Is Dead show in '92 or so where I think I permanently lost a little of my high-end hearing--and this time I had my earplugs in the entire time. Look, people: Roger Miller from Burma has to wear pharmaceutical-grade earplugs and rifle-range earmuffs and be separated from Peter Prescott by a Plexiglass barrier and stand next to his amp instead of in front of it, because dumb-ass sound design like this has wrecked his ears. The evidence is right in front of you.
And if I'm paying fifty dollars for a rock show, I had damn well better be getting good sound. That means paying somebody to go to a whole bunch of different parts of the audience area during soundcheck--including where I was standing, about 35 feet from the stage--and make sure that you can hear something other than drums, even if that means turning certain things DOWN a little. The Pixies stopped their set after two songs because the monitor mix was so bad they couldn't hear themselves either; when they came back, they were clearly having a good time--Kim Deal and Black Francis even got into a fake fight about doing an encore, and after he agreed to do one more song ("Debaser"!!), she launched right into "Gigantic" and he had to go along. A lot of their songs start with very specific drum parts--but the ones that don't took a minute or two to identify, because they were just huge shock waves coming out of the sound system.
I had a ticket to see the Pixies again on Thursday, and I had to cancel--there's no way I'm doing that to my ears twice in a week. Don't even think about going without your earplugs.