25 May 2020

The Pixies

by Cat Strom Photo credits: Jose Sanchez / Kim Strong

Come on Pilgrim it’s Surfer Rosa

In March The Pixies embarked on their Come On Pilgrim… It’s Surfer Rosa tour of Australia and New Zealand, a tour they took to the UK and North America in 2018 playing six nights at London’s Round House, three nights in Mexico City and three nights in New York’s Brooklyn Steel. In 2019 they toured the summer circuit with a completely different show before reviving the Come on Pilgrim… It’s Surfer Rosa tour for 2020.

The show commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Pixies debut album Surfer Rosa as well as their 1987 mini-album debut, Come On Pilgrim. The band play the Come On Pilgrim album in full followed by the Surfer Rosa album, also in full, and finally a 30-minute encore of songs from other albums.

With the New Zealand tour successfully under their belt, the band put in an appearance at Victoria’s Golden Plains Festival before heading to Melbourne’s Palais Theatre for two nights.


After that, they flew to Brisbane where the entire entourage was abruptly woken at 3 a.m. in their hotel beds and told to pack immediately as they were returning to the US amid COVID-19 concerns.

As they sat in the almost deserted departure lounge, they watched as flights began to get cancelled and their relief was palpable when they finally set off for home.

CX was due to cover one of the two Sydney shows planned for the Sydney Opera House forecourt but had to settle for phone interviews with Myles and Miles.

Lighting designer Myles Mangino was in heavy lockdown in New York City with his young daughter, whilst FOH engineer Miles Wilson was ensconced at his home in Los Angeles.

With his wife still actively employed, Miles is busy doing all of the homeschooling, cooking and housework saying that he is “f^%&**g exhausted!”

Myles Mangino has been with The Pixies since they first started 35 years ago, and a usual Pixies show for him involves a wall of smoke, lights, strobes and silhouettes with backlighting.

This time he wanted to do something completely different. Myles decided to make the production primarily about video content with the lighting as simple as possible.

Eight Martin MAC Viper Profiles were located at the back of the stage with eight more at the front focused on the four band positions so each band member had two spots from behind and two from the front.

Myles opted for the MAC Viper as he believes it has one of the best natural CTO to make it look like a tungsten fixture. Added to that were four MAC Viper Washes that lit each of the band member’s backline.

None of the lights ever moved and remained in CTO for the whole show.

“I decided to have six projection screens and one big video wall behind the band that would wrap around the audience,” explained Myles.

“Originally this show was designed for London’s Roundhouse, a large round domed venue, where the audience could feel that they were engulfed in the imagery.

“Once we got into the usual rectangular shaped venues it wasn’t quite the same, but it still worked well.”

Before the band took to the stage there was a 24-minute avant-garde film based on the artwork of Vaughan Oliver who created all of the artwork for the Pixies albums and many of the other artists on the 4AD label.

The film was accompanied by a narration by Vaughan describing his work process. The Australian shows were the first time this was shown since Vaughan passed away at the end of 2019.

The film was created by Myles, with Joey Santiago, Pixies guitarist, scoring an original soundtrack.

“About a third of the visuals were Vaughan’s artwork, a third were created by his students at the university he taught at, and the rest was content that I created myself,” explained Myles.

“I ended up with 780 video clips ranging from two seconds to four minutes in length – all of which I played back live across the seven screens from a grandMA2 console.”

For content playback, Myles used Resolume which he says is ideal compared to the bigger media servers as he needed to prepare everything himself and to be able to fly with just a laptop.

He ran seven outputs on a 16” MacBook Pro out of the USB-C output and never once had to use the backup.

“It ran solid even with me chasing content from the console so Resolume was being worked like crazy,” added Myles.

“I used it a little bit differently. When you use a media server at a festival where there may be 24 screens across the stage the entire image is usually mapped across the entire 24 screens but in this case, I treat each layer of Resolume and each output as a separate moving head fixture.

“From the console, I can use that LED projector or that LED wall like it’s just another lighting fixture. I could chase the colours on it, zoom it in and out and even strobe it.”

All of the content creation, video editing and previz was done at Myles’ previz studio Highlt Previz & Production Design Studio in New York City. Big Picture supplied the video in NZ and Australia, and the lighting was supplied by Spot-lite in NZ and Phaseshift in Melbourne.

Miles Wilson is the new kid on the block having only been with The Pixies since 2004, taking over FOH duties in 2009. The Australian tour utilised in-house PA systems with JPJ Audio providing a control package.

Whilst Miles may favour a d&b audiotechnik PA for The Pixies, he is not precious saying that as long as the PA is set up correctly, all of the top companies (L-Acoustics, Meyer Sound, Adamson, JBL, etc) make a great product.

For control Miles used an Avid S6L saying he was an early adopter of the model as he has been around Avid products for many years.

“I’m very happy with the Avid S6L especially the virtual soundcheck and being able to record everything is so easy. And it sounds great!” he said.

“It’s a very transparent console, both the high and low end is considerably more defined than it was with the Profile.

“The overall sound of the mic pres is much better, more depth and more detail. Of course, you are also running at 96K rather than 48K.”

Over the years with The Pixies, Miles has chiselled away at his effects rack aiming to be self-contained within the console. He now uses Sony Oxford plugins and not much else.

“It’s not a very effects-heavy mix for me,” he remarked. “I’m much more concerned with the punch of the drums and the clarity of the vocals.

“If that’s rocking and locked in, then I’ll start to throw a little more reverb or slap delay on the vocals. The density of The Pixies sound sometimes makes it difficult to push the effects and the last thing I want to do is wash it out.

“That said, when we’re doing an outdoor festival and it’s nice and dry, I’ll start pushing that stuff a bit more. I concentrate on getting it as loud, punchy and as clear as I can.

“You can get away with it being loud if everything is working and it sounds nice and smooth. If you’re having a tough night, the best thing you can do is bring it down a bit.”

Microphones were fairly standard with Shure Beta 91 and 52 for the kick drum, Shure 57 and KSM 137 for the snare, AKG 414s for the overheads and Sennheiser 904s for the toms.

For guitars, there were mainly Shure 57s although Miles experiments with bringing in an SM7 on amps now and then.

“I’ve used 421s and Royers at times, but I nearly always go back to using the Shure 57 for the most part. We do also use a small diaphragm condenser by Milab, the DC-96 which sounds awesome,” commented Miles.

“For Joey’s Marshall, I use a blend of the 57 and Milab and the same for frontman Charles’ two Vox AC30 amplifiers. A Beyer M88 is used for the bass cabinet. Shure Beta 57 vocal mics are used by everybody except Dave the drummer who gets a Beta 56.

“It’s 24 inputs total and it can be dialed in quickly on a foreign console in very short order if needed.”

Monitors were looked after by Matt Jones on a Yamaha PM7 with Miles describing him as an awesome and technically savvy engineer who spots everything well before he notices any issues or potential pitfalls!

“Matt allows me to not worry too much about technical components and stage sound and just focus on the creative aspect of the mix,” said Miles.

“I don’t have to sweat whether we have enough vocal headroom before PA feedback or whatever. The band are all using IEMs and Charles has a pair of wedges for himself plus there are a pair of side fills.

“It’s nice because Charle’s likes it loud, the guitar amps are loud, and when everyone used to be on wedges it got very loud on stage. Now it’s a lot more controllable from front of house.

“They’re definitely a loud band especially Charles who has a pair of Vox AC30s turned all the way up! When we’re in a small or lively sounding room it can be a struggle to get his vocal nice and clean on top of that without tearing people’s heads off!”

Miles revealed that The Pixies never use a setlist preferring to make shows up as they go, reading the audience from night to night and just riding with it. The result for him is a very fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants gig!

“Some bands have everything scripted, and that can be fun too making for a really precise show, but this is just very different,” added Miles.

“Every night has it’s own personality and more often than not, it’s awesome. Some nights it goes off the rails a bit and it’s all you can do to hold it together. That’s usually to do with the sound of the room.

“It’s a challenge mixing The Pixies but it is also very, very rewarding especially on the nights where you’re in a great venue, the crowd is on fire and the band feels it.

“There’s a reason why most of their crew has stuck with them for so long – plus the band are awesome as people which makes it all that much better.”

The Pixies plan to complete their Australian tour as soon as they can.

CX Magazine – May 2020   

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