Bluedot, Jodrell Bank Observatory, Lovell stage, July 7 2017.
Pixies under the Lovell Telescope with talks on how the universe was formed still ringing in my ears made a strange and beautiful kind of sense. The day was hot and heavy and the crowd that waited at barriers for them for hours beforehand was already sweaty as the opening notes sounded. So when it rained on us from about half way through the show nothing so trivial as a little cool clear water was going to stop the party. From the first song, ‘Gouge Away,’ security was on high alert for bad behaviour and overall the moshing, swaying, jumping, screaming crowd was pretty well behaved. There was one fan who got escorted out for taking his trousers off, he said to throw at the stage and while craning to see where they were taking the pants-less wonder I got knocked to the ground. This was during ‘Broken Face,’ I broke nothing but the fall of a sequinned festival goer and was helped up quickly, but we were the dangerous dancing exceptions I think. Pixies is a such a serious band and the audience was serious about them. Waiting in the front row I spoke to an Israeli couple who’d come on a UK holiday based around Pixies and Bluedot, someone who’d seen them ten times, someone who’d never seen them before but had tried over and over and there where many other pilgrims with them.
They were all buzzing as the stage set changed after DJ Marc Riley left the stage. His dancing tunes had warmed the crowd up nicely as the sun set but Pixies played into the dark and we were excited about the wall of equipment being installed to welcome them. The light show for Pixies was pretty simple in the end. Still effective with great silhouettes and strobes, lots of smoke but it seemed like we were being lit up almost as much as the stage so that the communication between musicians and audience felt strong and ongoing. Kim Deal had a smile for us at the end and drummer Dave Lovering’s grin as he finished singing ‘La La La Love You’ shrouded in cascading white smoke was a thing of beauty; they’re cool, those Pixies and a little bit dark themselves. They must be amongst the best live acts playing at the moment but they’ve still got their slightly nerdy, outsider feel and they seemed almost as excited by some of the science stuff that was going on as by the music. Non of this is so surprising given their on going artistic and personal focus on space and aliens and the world (2004 ‘Where Is My Mind’ was beemed up by NASA scientists to wake up a damaged Mars Explorer called Spirit and drummer Lovering has a second life as a physics magician) but still exciting to a festival that mixes the music and science together so successfully.
They played many of the anthems, songs the audience knew and knew how to move too and a few newer ones that must be only slightly less well known judging by our noise. By the end every song was greeted with that satisfied groan a crowd makes when they recognise the first few cords. At one of the many talks that was going on all day a professor spoke about how learning happens best when new information is mixed with just enough recognisable stuff so that the whole is still comprehensible. She explained that’s where the fun is too, challenges just hard enough to need work but not impossible to get through. It seemed to me this opening night headliner and the festival in general was pretty perfectly in that sweet spot. We were like spirits on Mars, space opening above us as we woke up wondering where I minds where.