Articles: One of a Kind

Black Francis - Manette Street Borderline
By Roy Wilkinson
Sounds, November 1990.
Transcribed by C. Gourraud for Alec Eiffel

Up the road, veteran boogie-metal beasts Blackfoot are packing the Marquee but Charles F easily outbids them in the none blacker rock stakes. For wandering on stage, Black Francis picks up his guitar and screams into 'Tame'. In total darkness.
Suffice to say this is no big production. The rudimentary lightshow soon kicks in, but really this is just Francis and a few members of the Fender clan. Tele, Strat and Twin Reverb. As the chubby fallen cherub howls into the first of three solo shows with a head-down run through purely Pixies material, it's all a bit like coming across the devil conducting a cheery pub singalong. The sheer intimacy forces Black to relent on his normally remote stage presence and let his songs shed some of their comic macabre cool in these affably beery surroundings.
Without the atmosphere of a Pixies show, the songs are stripped down, with only the words and the base structure to see them through. Doesn't matter, those base structures are peerless.

It's always been hard to equate the scale of the Pixies' sonic drama with the terminally unprepossessing appearance of its authors. Here it's even more difficult as Black lurches around in the kind of jacket and jeans ensemble sported TV by dapper TV supa-Scot Rab C Nesbit. This is all content and no style - visually at least.

Black obviously isn't going to rival Billy Bragg for ''eart-warming, 'ave-a-go cheery yarn-spinning'. Either nerves or alcohol turn every attempt at chat into a limping string of words. "We got a guy...Theremin...song," he slurs, lauching into 'The Happening'. Occasionally coherency looks in. 'Do The Manta Ray' is "another UFO song", the boogie sequence at the end of 'River Euphrates' "a fake Jesus And Mary Chain song". Black's surf and Neil Young fascinations had been taken in when The Beach Boys' 'I Know There's An Answer' and Youngy's 'F***in' Up' played on the PA before his entrance. With 'Levitate Me' Black enters the spirit of the latter.
Cocking it up, he brings the song to a premature end: "F**k that song." Needless to say, current single 'Dig For Fire' isn't played but a VFM set is till rammed through. All the albums are ransacked gleefully, the audience homing in on 'Pilgrim' selections. With 'Nimrod's Son' everyone brands themselves 'the son of a mother f**ker' and supplies the 'one, two, three, four' chant.

It's safe to say Blackie outplayed Blackfoot. Tonight the Pixie stood alone and come to the end of year reckoning, this show'll be near enough out on its own too. Solo, so high.



Last Updated 07-04-97