Black, Frank : London Camden Underworld

Frank Black looks exactly the same...

Frank Black looks exactly the same. With the closely cropped, slightly receding hair, the open-necked work shirt and the still generous belly banging angrily against a black semi-acoustic guitar, it’s almost as if the past ten years had never happened. And for a large part of the Underworld crowd, it hasn’t.

Aside from those packed inside, there’s a queue locked outside that runs all the way up Camden High Street. Rumours have been growing that a Pixies reunion of sorts is in the offing. Everyone is desperate for a glimpse of former guitarist Joey Santiago joining his one-time leader onstage for a blast through the glory days. No-one is baying for material from the questionable solo years. But Frank Black, once Black Francis, the man who advertised for band members who were into Hüsker Dü and Peter, Paul and Mary, has never been known to toe any sort of line.

The solo material is a revelation. Shorn of the sometimes clumsy, journeyman accompaniment of recent years, the tunes are allowed to shine. ‘Headache’, always his finest moment, is an acute surf-rock paean to paranoia that works better when he screams along to solo guitar. Forthcoming new

track ‘Angst’, a tribute to the SST West Coast post-punk scene, reminds us all of the boundless, splintering energy Black once summoned at will.

All the while, without announcements, he slips in the Pixies tracks: first ‘Nimrod’s Son’, then a bracing ‘Mr Grieves’. Like an alternative [I]Stars In Their Eyes[/I], the audience break into applause within seconds of recognising each treat he delivers.

Close to the end, he apologises that Santiago hasn’t shown up. “I’m sure we’ll get together

next time,” he smiles. He’s

forgiven because he’s Black Francis and he’s playing ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’.

Finally, he begins ‘Where Is My Mind?’ and several hundred people smile. For three-and-a-half minutes, they remember why a decade ago the Pixies were the most important, abrasive forehead on the nose of every namby-pamby wet English miserablist who choked up the indie chart. And then, like them, he says thank you and goodnight.

Paul McNamee