Tonight Matthew, Tim Wheeler’s going to be Black Francis

Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler

If you could form a tribute band and play cover versions of their best songs, which band would you choose? That’s the question posed by The JD Set, and when they asked Tim Wheeler, lead singer with Ash, he picked that most influential of indie rock bands, Pixies. It’s a choice that makes some sense when you think about the bands’ shared off-kilter way with a guitar-led melody. Wheeler himself says that when his 13-year old self discovered them and their “many strange and interesting elements, it was like nothing I’d heard before and opened up a whole new world to me”. 

There’s no guarantee we’ll be seeing the Boston, Massachusetts band in a small Hoxton basement club like XOYO any time soon, so last Thursday it was up to Wheeler and his fellow crop of young pretenders to blaze their way through some of the finer moments of Pixies’ five album-strong back catalogue.

His other band members tonight were made up of various indie scene types recruited as a revolving backing band. First up were The Crookes, a rising Sheffield band who got the pick of some of Pixies’ best pop moments, getting to play Here Comes Your Man, Wave Of Mutilation and Gouge Away.

Emmy The Great played the Kim Deal role to Wheeler’s Black Francis on I Bleed and Gigantic although she seemed a little under-used, and missed out some of Deal’s finer moments. A bit of a shame as when she was on stage her vocals stood out next to Wheeler’s. While Black Francis might have been a trail-blazer for atonal, furious vocals, the animalistic yelps he lets out at the bitter crux (“then Gaaaahd is seven”) of Monkey Gone To Heaven weren’t anywhere near matched by Wheeler’s weak efforts.

A combination of strong stage presence and styled haircuts ensured that The Crookes were the better of the backing bands on tonight, but Ma Mentor and And So I Watch You From Afar worked well to bring out those feedback moments and dominant basslines.

Mark Hamilton and Rick McMurray turned up to reform Ash for the last few songs of the evening, recruiting Bloc Party’s Russell Lissack for the ride. And once they’d run out of Pixies songs (although there was some consternation at certain notable omissions – hey, where was Hey?), they treated the audience to a couple of Ash tracks.

Early single Petrol was a convenient reminder of how, even at the outset of their career, Ash combined a youthful thirst for noise with a keen sense of melody. With that track and Burn Baby Burn, Wheeler’s voice was noticably more effective back in its own comfort zone.

Tonight was a fun jolly for Wheeler and his mates, and tracks like Debaser and I’ve Been Tired still stand as great live tracks, but ultimately the audience were left pining for the real thing. And thankfully the real thing are still around. Let’s enjoy them while we still have the chance.

The JD Set continues to give musicians Stars In Their Eyes moments with Sharleen Spiteri interpreting David Bowie tracks at the O2 ABC, Glasgow on 20 April 2011 and Mani covering The Smiths songs at Band On The Wall, Manchester on 12 May.

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Tonight Matthew, Tim Wheeler’s going to be Black Francis