Frank Black And The Catholics: Charlottesville Starr Hill Music Hall

Promoting latest album 'Dog In The Sand', ex-Pixies frontman Black still proves formidable...

Frank Black commands immediate attention. There is no mistaking the former Pixies frontman for some archetypal indie rocker as the Winston Churchill doppelganger carves his way to the stage through a sold-out crowd at Virginia’s newest deluxe venue.

Those lucky enough to score tickets to the show at Starr Hill stare nervously at the man as if inadvertently running into an old acquaintance. While gnawing on a cough drop, Black explains to the crowd that he is slightly ill and hopes that his voice doesn’t give out him. Without hesitation, he and his band of Catholics immediately dig into a raucous set that ends no less than two hours later. If Black does indeed have a sore throat, it’s not evident tonight.

Black knows his audience well. He understands that many in attendance aren’t so familiar with his post-Pixies work, so he throws them a bone with a back-to-back combo of ‘Gouge Away’ and ‘Dancing The Manta Ray’ early on. Now that he has garnered the interest of the entire room, there is an opportunity to display material that is closest to him in the present.

The newer songs, which appear on his most recent album, ‘Dog In The Sand’, come off brilliantly. ‘Bullet’ pierces through the ultra-clean sound system with pedal steel majesty and ‘Hermaphroditos’ aggressively recalls Black’s trademark growl-vocals of yesteryear. Throw in a well-selected, somewhat ironic cover of Tom Waits’ ‘The Black Rider’ and it becomes clear that this particular aging Black Rider on stage still has a few clever tricks at his disposal.

As the performance draws closer to the end, the Catholics break into the opening notes of ‘Where is My Mind?’. The crowd knows their role, offering services as backing vocalists for the oh-to-familiar “woo ooh” part. The band accepts the participation wholly, viewing their supporters as equals and not mere fans. The unpretentious vibe that Frank Black and company elicits is something that is sorely lacking in most modern rock.

Bret Booth