Pixies headlining End Of The Road felt like a big moment, even when they were singing about cockerels

It was an uneven set, but you can't really argue with a show that contains 'Where Is My Mind', 'Gouge Away' and 'Tame'

Pixies are all business tonight. Appearing on stage to little fanfare, they simply give everyone a wave, strap on their guitars and kick off their set with ‘Gouge Away’. All day there had been rumours floating around End Of The Road that the band were planning on sticking exclusively to the post-reunion stuff, yet here mere seconds into their set, Black Francis and co take a metaphorical axe to that kind of talk.

Typically, End Of The Road is the kind of festival that goes out of its way to create small, garden party vibes. The woods are filled with art installations and fairground rides, and there’s a small craft village filled with kids making papier-mache models and watching magicians. It’s probably the only festival I can think of where you can buy crumpets, day or night. However, during exceptional moments, End Of The Road occasionally takes on a big festival’s aura. As we wait for the band to start, we watch the crowd arrives first as a trickle and then as a flood; this has all the hallmarks of being a big moment.

Opening salvos don’t come much better than this tonight. ‘Gouge Away’ flows directly into ‘Wave of Mutilation’ and heads straight into ‘Monkey Gone To Heaven’. All are delivered with the energy of a Pez dispenser, landing one after another and giving the crowd almost no time to digest each sugary treat. The first 30 minutes of tonight’s set are pure magic and fly by in a rush of sing-alongs, excited glances and hand-in-the-air choruses. By the time Pixies get to ‘Mr Grieves’, though, I have to admit a twang of concern starts to kick in. Surely a set this front-loaded is going to run out of steam, right?

Unfortunately, like old age, the laws of gravity are inescapable. Sure enough, the following 30 minutes drag a bit. The intensity doesn’t drop; track after track is served up machine-like without introduction, wisecrack or comment, but the deep cuts and oddities just don’t hit like the classics. I mean, ‘There’s a Moon On’ with its verses serving up lines like “Make like a cock, and cock-a-doodle-do, make like I’m gonna make love to you” doesn’t have the romance and mystery of a line like “I am un chien Andalusia!” But I suppose you can forgive the odd missed bullseye when you have a 30-year back catalogue filled with stone-cold classics.

Eventually, Black Francis reaches for an acoustic guitar, and the good times return. After a warm-up of ‘Cactus’, the band soon launch into a rendition of ‘Here Comes Your Man’, which has people clambering up on each other’s shoulders to holler the chorus back at the stage. The final half hour is back to pure gold. ‘Tame’ and a second, slowed-down version of ‘Wave of Mutilation’ is followed by ‘Where is My Mind’, which at last feels like a huge festival moment. Captivated, the crowd bellows the whole song word for word; verses, choruses and woo-hoos, in a way that almost drowns out the band playing on stage. 

Spiritually, it felt done, but Pixies, a band who obviously hate the idea of a convention, still manage to squeeze in ‘I’ve Been Waiting For You’ before calling it a night. As the last notes sound out, the band lay down their instruments and wave to the crowd for what feels like a bizarrely long curtain call. And then, as suddenly as they arrived, they’re gone.

Additional photography by Chris Juarez