Frank Black at Old Rock House: Review, Photo and Setlist

Frank Black at Old Rock House: Review, Photo and Setlist
Photo by Chrissy Wilmes

Frank Black | This City of Takers Old Rock House July 19, 2011

St. Louisans had a tough choice to make last night: Fleet Foxes, Frank Black or NKOTBSB? This City of Takers' vocalist and guitarist Brandon Lee acknowledged this conundrum halfway through the band's brief opening set, thanking everyone for not skipping out to see Fleet Foxes instead. He quickly added, "Fuck that. You're in a better place."

It should be said that it's impossible to avoid comparing a Black Francis show to a Pixies show, futile as that pursuit may be. It's amazing and impressive to see one man perform the same songs in such different ways. An upbeat track that seems built around Joey Santiago's solo or Kim Deal's girlish vocals is broken down into a simpler, more earnest version of itself, requiring only a few chords on a guitar and Black's erratic vocals (and of course, Eric Drew Feldman on bass and keyboard). Many Pixies' songs shine when stripped down in this way.

In the same way, there are always going to be Pixies fans who show up to a Frank Black show ignoring his massive solo career, drunkenly shouting "Where Is My Mind!!" and "Bring the Pixies to St. Louis!"

Just because it's inevitable doesn't make it not a bummer. Two of these hobbyists were parked directly in front of me. It was hard to miss them, what with all of their cell phone camerawork, beer spilling, ass-groping, fight-starting and the volume with which they made stupid exclamation after stupid exclamation.

The last thing anyone should do is hate on others at a show. After all, we can't be so different -- we love the same music. And as a wise man once said, "Music is the healing force." However, if you're so intensely obnoxious that the musician we're all here to see feels the need to stop mid-song and "shush" you, our differences may be too great to mend, even with music.

Obviously, most of the people in the room would want nothing more than a Pixies show in St. Louis, and it's safe to assume Black knows this. Shouting at him that you'd rather be watching the Pixies while he's playing is rude and uncomfortable for everyone in the room.

Mr. Black did indeed stop playing to ask some folks to simmer down, and after I moved away from the unbefuckinglievableness that was taking place in front of me and into a puddle of beer, I could finally start to enjoy the show.

It's a shame. Once layer after layer of distraction was peeled away, we were left with a superb, intimate show; a welcome contrast to the arena-filled Pixies concerts of recent years. Black seemed relaxed, humble, and while he did stop occasionally to chastise unruly patrons, he was nice about it -- perhaps too nice -- and didn't let it affect the rest of his performance.

Black did play some Pixies' songs, including the obligatory "Where is My Mind?" And while seeing Black perform "Cactus" will never, ever get old, and his whisper of a version of "Planet of Sound" was a lovely complement to the studio version with all its shouting, it seemed that most of the crowd were, in fact, truly fans of his solo work, and there to see Frank Black, not necessarily "Frank Black of the Pixies."

His solo songs were met with knowing applause, especially "Six Sixty Six" and the tracks from his self-titled record ("I Heard Ramona Sing," "Los Angeles," "Ten Percenter"). The lack of a drummer made the songs nebulous, and Black wanted them that way -- hence his asking the crowd to stop trying to keep a beat; they were making it difficult for him and Feldman to "march to the beat of their own drummer that wasn't there."

I was impressed with the seamlessness of Fledman and Black's accompaniment. Black introduced "Two Reelers," explaining he hadn't played the song in a long time, but he knew it was "somewhere in [his] muscle memory, and it's somewhere in [Feldman's] muscle memory, but the question is, [did they] remember it?" He quickly added that he wasn't going to tell Feldman what song it was, and jumped into its opening chords. It was clear that Feldman did not remember the song very well, but he attempted to play his bass with a sly smile as if he in fact did, making for a completely unique and impossible-to-replicate version of the song.

It's unfortunate that what should have been (and in many ways, was) a great show was tainted by the rudeness of a few people. While anyone in that building (and thousands of other St. Louisans, undoubtedly) would love to see the Pixies stop through our city again, we'd also love to see Frank Black pay us another visit. After what he put up with from last night's crowd, I'm not holding my breath.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: My experience was obviously affected by a few brash patrons (who, by the way, nearly started a fight when someone asked them to chill out). However, after talking to a few other fans, it became clear that I wasn't alone in my experience being negatively affected by those around me. I did eventually move, and standing in a thick puddle of beer proved far more pleasant and less distracting.

By the Way: It should be noted that while a small portion of the audience was rude and obnoxious, the rest made up an especially great crowd -- it's just that the obnoxious minority was, of course, intent on making its presence known. Everyone else was quite talkative and friendly. All around, folks were being kind to each other and appreciative of Black. Highlight: When a kid next to me spilled his beer onto a girl's legs and shoes, a man behind him insisted (nicely) that he apologize to her until he did.

Overheard: The man in front of me shouting "I still like the Pixies better'n him, but I guess this one's alright" to the woman with him during nearly every solo Frank Black song.


1. Black Rider 2. Six Sixty Six 3. Los Angeles 4. Song of the Shrimp 5. Nimrod's Son 6. Two Reelers 7. All Around the World 8. Robert Onion 9. I Heard Ramona Sing 10. Ten Percenter 11. That Burnt Out Rock'n' Roll 12. She Took All the Money 13. Calistan 14 Horrible Day 15. Where is My Mind? 16. Bullet 17. I Burn Today 18. Brackish Boy 19. Sir Rockaby 20. (I Want to Live On an) Abstract Plain 21. Dead Man's Curve 22. Cactus 23. Planet of Sound 24. I'll Be Blue