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Pixies In Dixie

My travels rarely bring me into close proximity to livestock, or events involving livestock. But I was down in North Carolina last week, so, theoretically, the odds were much higher for bovine encounters than they would be at home in Manhattan. Nevertheless, I found myself on the back streets of Raleigh, bumbling about lots filled with a different kind of stock — automobiles — and a stunning number of abandoned restaurants, searching for a place called the Ritz Theater where the Pixies were supposed to be playing. Instead, the only visible hubbub was buzzing around a nondescript beige industrial-looking edifice emblazoned with a rather disconcerting and gigantic neon sign.

“Disco Rodeo,” it said.

I pulled over to the roadside and consulted my Yahoo! Yellow Pages directional printout, worried I had been completely misdirected and that my first night in the Tar Heel State would be ruined, or at least completely void of Frank Black’s gleefully unnerving howls. But I noticed some telltale signs of indie rock’s presence, particularly a pack of pale teens that seemed undernourished, but well appointed in dark tees, jeans, and Chuck Taylors. Charmingly, they chattered about the latest Decemberists album in easygoing Southern drawls. Man, does that accent take the edge off hipsterdom. And you know one of these Dixie-bred indie rock kids is going to be president one day. Bubba Hammond, Jr., or something like that (as fellow blogger One Divine Hammer and I mused over IM the next afternoon). The Strokes and Neutral Milk Hotel would play the Inaugural Ball.

Anyhow, it became clear that the Pixies were here in North Carolina and they were playing the Disco Rodeo. First, I wondered how the band might have reacted upon arriving at said venue, how they might have interpreted it in the larger scope of their career. After all, a few days later they’d be playing a glamorous bill at Long Island’s Jones Beach with openers Interpol and LCD Soundsystem. As I ambled up the steps into the venue, I imagined the band calling their booking agent: “Umm, hey, it’s the Pixies. Yeah, we’re in Raleigh at the Disco Rodeo. No, it’s not called the Ritz anymore. Yes, they’re asking us if we know ‘Achy Breaky Heart.’ And yo, it’s like a thousand degrees inside this place.”

Who knows? Maybe they did. But it turned out that the Disco Rodeo could be where the Pixies are most important, regardless of what other inane CMT-fueled activities take place there on other nights. The place was absolutely jammed to its 2,500 capacity, each one of these folks feeling a little bit like I did: How cool is it to be seeing this band in this place? But I got the feeling it was something much, much more. It was seeing this band in this town. A friend I made at the bar — I doubled up on water, trying to recoup the liters of sweat I was losing with each successive song — recounted all of the jaunts he’d made to see the Pixies since they reunited last spring. He’d been to Philly and D.C., crashing with friends and family, and had an attempt thwarted to catch them in Atlanta. “I never thought I’d see them here,” he said. “This is so damn cool.” Of course, he wasn’t talking about my now-beloved Disco Rodeo, but about Raleigh, and the “Triangle” that includes neighboring cities Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill.

Certainly, living in a less-trafficked locale like this one would totally lead to situations where a sad soul could possibly go forever without seeing a certain favorite band come to town. But not that night. The euphoria overload was so great that when the band completely unraveled during opener “Bone Machine,” everyone was totally cool. Cool as Kim Deal, actually, who probably laughed the hardest. “You’d think we’d start with something less difficult,” joked Black; the band opens with that song all the time. And through the 27-song set that followed, the crowd savored every moment, hitting the high notes with Frank on “Caribou” and “Broken Face,” or singing along with Kim on “Debaser” and perennial pleaser “Gigantic.” Later, some lovely Southern lasses started droppin’ it like it was hot — and it sure was — in the balcony during “Hey,” kind of like an PG-rated version of Girls Gone Wild.

At night’s end, while shuffling off back among the car lots, I took a squint back at the Disco Rodeo, and snapped a final photo; it’s perhaps the most nondescript building I’ve ever photographed. But I ended up wishing it were my nondescript building in my second-tier town, wishing for something to make an already special night that much greater.