Black Francis at the Aladdin

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Black Francis performing at the Aladdin theaterI listened to crap before I discovered two bands in high school. The first was Blur. The second was Pixies.

When Blur frontman Damon Albarn came stateside with his band The Good, the Bad and the Queen in 2007, I traveled to California to see him. He probably could have been touring with a polka/throat-singing group and I still would have attempted to show up. Certain visionaries have so much creative impact on me that getting a glimpse, in person, of how they engineer their works of art fuels and inspires me as an artist.

Charles Thompson, a.k.a. Black Francis, a.k.a. Frank Black, is one of those geniuses. I’ve had the pleasure of seeing him thrice now; once with the Pixies, once with a band in Eugene, and once last Tuesday at the Aladdin for a solo acoustic set.

The term “acoustic” is used loosely in this case, as Charles played an electric guitar. But if the sound was not acoustic in the strictest sense, it hit all the other requirements of an acoustic show:

Having heard Charles perform many a Pixies song, it was a wonderful treat to hear versions of his earlier solo work like “I Heard Ramona Sing,” “Headache” and “Two Wheelers” in addition to staples like “Cactus” and “Where Is My Mind?” His rendition of “Velouria” in particular was moving and beautiful.

Charles’ roar is certainly best served by a solid (or at least predatory) rhythm section driving him forward, but stripped of supporting musicians it’s clear that the essence of the Pixies’ earnest-yet-dangerous sound is alive, well and playing not-quite-acoustic shows up and down the west coast.