The Boston grunge-pop godheads make the most significant rock comeback in a decade

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That Old Black Magic



Thursday June 3 and Saturday June 5, 2004

All you really want to know is whether they were any good or not, right? Eleven years since they split up, hitting these shores on the back of a sell-out reunion tour, our expectations were almost unreasonably high. Do they pull it off? Hell, yes.

Uncut catches Boston’s finest on the second and, two days later, the final night of their four-date residency at Brixton Academy, and on both occasions they blow the roof off and tear the stars from the sky. They parachute in, play 25 songs, then fly out again 90 minutes later; no frills, no set to speak of, no polite between-song banter. They just race headlong through one of the most impressive and influential back catalogues rock music has ever produced, a trailblazing, eyeball-slicing mix of punk, snarling surf guitar, deviant dynamics and dark-as-fuck lyrics.

And anything other than a greatest hits set would have been a disappointment, if not downright rude. Certainly, everything you’d want is here?”Monkey Gone To Heaven”, “Gouge Away”, “Where Is My Mind?”, “Debaser”, “Wave Of Mutilation”, the list goes on?but seeing them on two different nights, it’s pretty striking how changes in the running order affect the emphasis of the material. So, on the Thursday, “Here Comes Your Man” arrives early in the evening, a neat, crowd-pleasing moment?but on Saturday, as part of the closing encore, it becomes a roaring, jubilant adieu.

The past 11 years have treated the band reasonably well. But, perhaps tellingly, there’s not much visible camaraderie between the four members; they keep their distance, rarely establishing any eye-contact. Black Francis looks a little heavier, Joey Santiago a little thinner on top, Dave Lovering almost resembles a travelling snake-oil salesman or a member of Neil Young’s road crew circa 1975 with his straggly long hair and goatee beard. Only Kim Deal seems to have escaped the passing of time unscathed. The bulk of the sets are drawn from the classic opening salvo of Come On Pilgrim/Surfer Rosa and Doolittle. As if acknowledging that their creative edge was dimming by the time they made Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde, they play only four songs from those last two albums on the nights Uncut sees them, most notably their ferocious Jesus & Mary Chain cover “Head On”, which opens the Saturday show.

Apart from Thursday’s slow-build reworking of “Nimrod’s Son”, which sounds like it was intended for the soundtrack of a Vincent Gallo movie, there are no great changes from the songs as they appear on record. Everything is swathed in white noise, Frank’s trademark howl wrenched from the deepest recesses of his soul, only Kim’s honey-dripping harmonies providing any light here. Everything burns, pretty much.

Some may find Francis’ “We’re only in it for the money” admittances grating?particularly when you realise, on top of the