The Pixies rock the Ryman

Often, I find myself to be lucky when it comes to scoring free tickets to concerts. Maybe it is because I go to as many of them as possible but rarely have the funds to fork over for the artists I want to see most. My friends know that I am always that person who didn’t buy a ticket and is okay with being made aware of the event 10 minutes before the Wendy’s-and-energy drink-fueled carpool to the venue is leaving.

These kinds of spontaneous mini-adventures are my favorite way to spend my evenings, regardless of the night of the week. Somehow, this week was filled with extra ticket-acquiring magic because I was handed not one but two sets of free tickets to shows I had been coveting for months. Both bands were personal favorites as well and legends in their own rite.

The best part is that both shows were at the Ryman and I had never experienced the acoustics there previously. Seeing the Pixies there Sunday night was a treat since I have been a fan since I was a kid but had never experienced them live. A friend decided to stay home and watch the Super Bowl so I got to hear them play a 30 song set list and an encore at his middle-row floor seats.

Their set design was minimal but classically raw-much like their musical style. I enjoyed the nostalgia of their well-known-by-everybody hits like “where is my mind?” and “Gouge Away” but their new songs were what excited me the most about being present.

I admit I was a little disappointed that the original bassist Kim Deal wasn’t there (not to be confused with the recently booted Kim Shattuck of The Muffs) but I knew going in that Deal had left the band some time ago. Paz Lenchantin, most easily recognized as part of A Perfect Circle,is the new lady bassist in the band and she did a great job. It was apparent to the entire audience she was excited to be there and her style was great.

The new(ish) band Cults opened for the Pixies and I was a little surprised because that seems like a big leap in genres to me. I first heard of the Cults maybe a year ago and wore their songs out on my housemates, but when I saw them at Bonnaroo last summer I was really bummed at how “meh” their performance was.  To be fair, it was at the Which stage (notorious for horrible acoustics) and in the middle of the day. This performance was way better but it was still a little lack luster in my opinion. I had high hopes they’d redeem themselves, but I wasn’t impressed. At least they didn’t sound like they were in a wind tunnel this time.

If that wasn’t enough of a shocking and kind gift, Wednesday night another friend had tickets to the Neutral Milk Hotel show that he didn’t care about anymore. Within 30 minutes, my housemate and I had found a ride, picked up the tickets from our generous friend, and were en route to the Ryman for a second time in three days.

Elf Power, a band I had never heard of before, opened for them and they were pretty good, especially when NMH’s horn player Scott Spillane decided to join them on stage. Their Laura Carter also played with NMH during some songs, on accordion and later on guitar.

Before going into how great this show was to experience, let me first explain why it was such a huge honor to attend. Neutral Milk Hotel broke up in 1999 and probably the only chance I had to ever see them. Before the show, the band requested that no one take photos or videos because they wanted the audience to be fully present (and the flashes make them anxious, but that’s slightly less important), an idea someone like me who refused to own a cell phone for years can get behind. This band is what I was listening to in high school and one of the few I haven’t since fallen out of love with as an adult.

NMH’s front man and song writer Jeff Mangum began their set solo with “King of the Carrot Flowers Part One” and right after he finished he asked that people come closer to the stage. Of course, my housemate Lizzy and I were up before he could finish the sentence and ended up less than 20 feet from the stage.

It was probably one of the best shows I’ve ever been to and I have been to many.

 About half way through, they played their magnum opus “Aeroplane Over the Sea,” which anyone who is a fan can immediately conjure a sentimental memory from listening, especially live. It was followed by “Naomi” which for obvious reasons, I have a soft spot. It was about that time that I realized I was not the only one crying tears from a mixture of gratitude and nostalgia. 

I spent the entire time present rather than snapping photos for bragging rights; I wish the same could be said for the other audience members who watched the show through their screens after Mangum pleaded for people to stop. The moving performance and plethora of texts from jealous friends was enough for me to feel privileged and grateful. While their envy is understandable, I think I’ve used up my concert mojo for a while.