Had Amy Winehouse managed to survive her prolific drug use for another 25 years, she may have lived to play a quiet, classy set at New York’s Le Poisson Rouge like ex-Pixies guitarist/vocalist Black Francis. It was, by and large, a perfect Sunday night set: Black Francis was joined onstage by only one other musician for a none-to-rowdy but well-rehearsed collection of songs, and for those parties lucky enough to snag a table at the sold-out venue, dinner and drinks were available, as were little platters of cheese and crackers. Perhaps, for an aging musician whose bandmate looks like my high school science teacher, cheese-and-wine dinners are the highest forms of success.
Black Francis’ set was a victory for any rock star over 40. The way someone like Grace Slick talks about maturing in the music industry, you’d think the only way to save face as a performer (short of overdosing around age 27) would be to retire quietly to Malibu, become vegan and paint portraits of your old bandmates until you die on your hard mattress full of regret that you never banged Peter O’Toole; however, Black Francis managed to find another path. Maybe the boundless and reckless energy of a Pixies set circa 1989 was gone, but that didn’t mean the performance couldn’t appropriately mature with the musicians.
Not that Black Francis aimed to indulge Pixies fans much at all; although he received the most animated feedback during “Where Is My Mind?,” he opted to steer clear of Pixies favorites and pay tribute to his post-1993 career and solo material. He managed to fill Le Poisson Rouge with a very diverse crowd of white people of all kinds—young and old (but mostly middle-aged), fat and skinny, clean-cut and street chic, all gathered to hear the yelps of one of the most flawless rock voices since Robert Plant deliver a set fit for ex-grunge teens who now have money.