Concert Reviews

Last Night: Black Francis at the Walnut Room

Black Francis
Wednesday July 29, 2009
The Walnut Room
Better than:
Seeing him at a much bigger venue.

Black Francis (aka Frank Black aka Charles Thompson) doesn't tour in a van. Dude's been riding around the country in a big-ass tour deluxe tour bus, which seemed really out of place parked outside of the Walnut Room. He's also got a roadie to set up his two white Vox amps, his SWR acoustic and his two Telecasters. It seemed a tad over the top for just one guy, but then again that one guy is Black Francis, who fucking deserves his own tour bus and roadie.
  He's obviously come a long a way since losing his driver's license after getting too many speeding tickets while following the Ramones around and opening for the band more than a decade ago. Joey Ramone tapped him to go on tour after hearing Francis' Ramones tribute "I Heard Ramona Sing," a song Francis played last night from is on his 1993 self-titled debut.

Since then, Francis has released a bunch of solo albums and reunited with the Pixies. Last night, Francis dipped into material from most of those albums as well some Pixies songs. Before opening the show, Francis asked the two hundred or so folks in the room if they wanted to hear an easy or a hard song. He got a minute into "Two Reelers," which proved to be one of the most difficult songs of the night, and abruptly stopped, saying he was bored with the song already.

He then kicked into the Pixies' "Wave of Mutilation," which seemed much easier to play than "Two Reelers." While it was great hearing a stripped down version of the tune, his guitar tone sounded, well, like shit. It might have had something to do with the fact that he was running his Telecaster through an SWR acoustic instrument amp and a pair of Vox amps. It sounded like he was playing an acoustic guitar through a really crappy stomp box.

But the crappy tone didn't last for long. Francis seemed to tone down the distortion and get more of an acoustic sound out of the Telecaster, which was kind of bizarre in itself, for the most of the show. While he said the dry Denver air was messing with his sinuses, his vocals sounded great running through "All Around the World," "Bullet," "I Burn Today," "Los Angeles" and "The Water" before taking a break to talk about the Dutch musician and painter Herman Brood, who committed suicide by jumping off the Amsterdam Hilton.

Francis said he wrote "Lolita" for Brood's daughter Lola and also said the next song, "Angels Come to Comfort You," was what happens just before what takes place in "Lolita." In "Angels Come to Comfort You," Francis said it's Brood walking through the lobby of the Amsterdam Hilton to the elevator.

While most of the thirty or so songs Francis played during his two-hour set were pulled from solo albums, he dug into the Pixies catalogue and did some great takes on "Cactus," "Holiday Song," "Nimrod's Son," "Velouria" and "Where is My Mind," which he started to do earlier in the set, but instead went back to the full version "Two Reelers," which he said was about the Three Stooges, and saved "Where is My Mind" until near the end of the show.

Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Francis delivered a hell of fine show, playing thirty songs in a little over two hours.
Random Detail: Francis drank champagne between songs. 

By the Way: If you didn't get a chance to see Francis last night, another show was just added tonight at the Walnut Room.

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon