August 4, 2011

That Was The Show That Was: Frank Black | The Beachcomber, Wellfleet, MA | 28 July

Frank Black, Wellfleet Beachcomber, July 28, 2011
[We are pleased to mark the return to these digital pages of the writing of longtime friend and former editor Ric Dube. Mr. Dube these days hosts the terrific More Lost Time rare indie rock podcast. Subscribe right here -- we continue to heartily endorse his product and/or service. Photo by Ric Dube. -- Ed.]

The Beachcomber billed the man as Black Francis, so it seemed like a lot of people showed upexpecting to hear Pixies songs, of which few were played. But within moments of the erstwhile Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV's taking the stage, guitar slung behind his back, it was clear that this was a Frank Black show. Tom Waits' "The Black Rider" was more preached than sung, an insane carnival barker's pitch delivered on the edge of a erupting volcano. And while a celebrity of his caliber can usually expect to have the crowd on his side anyway, it would have been difficult for any audience to have not been immediately attracted to the confidence of his evangelism. "The Black Rider" turned into a version of Larry Norman's "Six-Sixty-Six," completing a de facto cover medley for the damned, before Black took a breath to greet the crowd.

The crowd at the Beachcomber on a night like this one is a weird marginalized bunch because you have to understand the Beachcomber. More than 50 years old, the club sits at the end of a narrow road at the bottom of a hill, yet still on top of a cliff overlooking Cahoon Hollow Beach, one of the few beaches in New England with surfable waves. A big chunk of the place is open-air patio-style, they don't require shirts or shoes and are thus the only nightclub you're likely ever to hang out where the sand on the floor wasn't dumped there in an effort to manufacture atmosphere.

For the most part, the police leave the Beachcomber and Cahoon Hollow alone, so it's a 24-hour party there. During the day, it's a parking nightmare as locals and tourist families jockey for space on the beach and meals at the Beachcomber. In the evening, the Beachcomber is the nightspot of choice, but never feels crowded because there's practically no border between it and the beach. Late at night, the area becomes its own lovably freakish community.

This means that at a Frank Black show there's an odd mix of more casual Pixies fans, bigger fans who appreciated every movement their hero made, casual tourists in the room more to check out a legendary nightclub, and stoned locals just making their regular scene. I'm part of a tourist family, but part of the Beachcomber faithful, indoctrinated in the '80s, and lucky to schedule vacation in Wellfleet the week this show is booked.

Black performed with Eric Drew Feldman, the former Captain Beefheart and Pere Ubu bassist and keyboard player who produced Black’s 1994 Teenager of the Year, played on 2000's Frank Black and the Catholics' Dog In The Sand and has worked closely with PJ Harvey, Polyphonic Spree and others. The set included a handful of tunes from Teenager ("Two Reelers," "Sir Rockaby," "I Want to Live on an Abstract Plain") alongside Dog In The Sand numbers ("Robert Onion," "Bullet," "The Swimmer").

It has seemed weird for a lot of years that Black's best-known solo material has remained the two cuts on his 1993 debut solo release that got a fair amount of MTV video airplay despite that stuff being fairly mediocre compared to both the quality and amount of his output since then. It's just another indication of the power of MTV during that time. "Los Angeles" and "I Heard Ramona Sing" got some of the biggest responses of the set, though to be fair, it was hard not to appreciate versions of those tunes stripped of almost anything but the barest parts. What made that first solo record a little disappointing was not so much the songs as how overweight the damn songs were -– in every possible way.

Those there for Pixies numbers got the aforementioned few; in addition to "Where Is My Mind?" and "Nimrod’s Son," Black's own "Ten Percenter" turned into a noodling rendition of "Planet of Sound." Amid applause, Black mused, "Sometimes that sends a few people out the door, and sometimes that brings a few people in."

Twenty or so numbers flew by, as is always the case the crowd called for more, and Black declined with a smile on his face –- making it clear he was not playing coy by unplugging and bagging his guitar on the spot. "We have to drive to Hyannis tonight and it's late as it is," he explained.

In fairness to the fans, Hyannis is just not all that long a drive from Wellfleet. Thought it was late, for some. The flipside of the police mostly leaving the Beachcomber and Cahoon Hollow to exist in its microcosm is ever vigilant patrolling for drunk driving and disorderly behavior of every nearby road. With the show over, it was still too soon to drive home. I wandered down the trail toward the beach in darkness so thick I couldn't see my feet, though near the bottom I could see a few bonfires. Above, every star in the sky was clearly visible. "Who are you?" said a girl in the blackness behind me.

"Hi," I answered, my arms across my chest, looking up at the night sky. "Did you see the show?"

"Yeah," she answered. "He was beautiful. But I didn’t know any of those songs. Hey, we’ve got
some weed -- but I don’t want to interrupt your peeing." -- Ric Dube

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Anonymous said...

I have been a Frank Black/Black Francis/Charles Thompson fan for years. My third year in a row at the Beachcomber. He was in GREAT form. Singing at times, howling and screaming at others. God bless him, as he took pictures with my girlfriend and me after the show. Great song selection. Reid Paley rocked it out too!!!

Ric Dube said...

I'm glad you shout out to Reid Paley -- I was there for most of his set and really enjoyed what I heard. Someone in the audience told me that he had tension with the audience at the beginning of the set, which if I'd been there for, would have drastically affected this review, turning it into an indictment of people who assume artists should defer to patrons unfamiliar with their material, rather than the reverse.

My understanding is that Paley and Black have just made a record together. I look forward to hearing that. Paley has a great sense of melody and power and I was impressed with his confidence on stage amid a weird energy.

I'm glad you got your pictures with Frank/Charles. A nice man, who only had to drive to Hyannis when the 6 has no traffic on it, a quick drive.