by Andrew Osborne
On May 19, 2015, The Boston Globe reported that the Cambridge, MA dive bar T.T. the Bear’s Place would be closing its doors for good on July 25th of the same year thanks to a steep rent hike coupled with the fact that the club’s 73-year-old owner Bonney Bouley had already been pondering retirement.
According to the article, T.T.’s general manager Kevin Patey was hoping a few of the local and national acts who’d performed at the venue over the years would return for some farewell gigs in the final days, adding: “Hey, if the Pixies wanna come back and play here, they’re more than welcome.”
And, lo and behold, that’s exactly what came to pass on June 18th, when social media lit up with the news that the Pixies would be playing a special show that night and tickets would go on sale at two p.m.
The news was posted on my Facebook wall at 9:33 a.m. by my friend Mark Wagner, who’d performed at T.T.’s back in the day as one fifth of the astonishing, indescribable Psychoneurotic Squeeb Band.
The Squeebs (in a slightly different configuration) first came to my attention at a summer talent show in 1981 when all of us were in the vicinity of 13 years old. Two years later, Bonney Bouley opened T.T. the Bear’s in Central Square, and two years after that, I didn’t go to Live Aid.
It was summer again — July 13, 1985 to be exact — and like much of Generation X, I had MTV on most of the day as acts from Elvis Costello, Queen, and The Boomtown Rats to Madonna, Run-D.M.C. and The Hooters performed a mega-concert on two continents to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief.
The British acts were all performing at Wembley Stadium in London, but the American leg of the concert was practically just down the street from me at JFK Stadium in Philadelphia — only five hours and change from my hometown of Middleboro, Massachusetts. All I needed was to borrow my parents’ car or gets one of my friends to drive me and I could at least stand in the parking lot within reverb distance of what clearly was my generation’s Woodstock.
“Oh, yes,” I’d be able to brag someday, “I was there.”
But instead, I just sat around and watched it all go down on TV.
Fast forward to somewhere around 11 a.m. on Thursday, June 18, 2015, when I finally saw Mark’s post about the Pixies on my Facebook wall. Apparently, tickets had to be purchased in person at the Orpheum Theater, where I’d seen my first real concert after moving to Boston for college in 1985 (Oingo Boingo opening for Squeeze, though the headliners had to cut the show short, apparently due to an ill-timed bout of the grippe).
As luck would have it, my wife’s office was just a few blocks from the Orpheum — but she couldn’t get away from her job long enough to stand in line, which meant it was all up to me. I’d taken the freelance path less traveled since college, so my schedule was flexible enough to rearrange some deadlines and give it a shot.
Like the Rat in Kenmore Square, Bunratty’s in Allston and countless other lost Boston haunts, T.T. the Bear’s was about to disappear into the fading memories of my long ago New Wave Gen-X youth — and just by riding six Red Line stops, I could possibly score a Wonka-style Golden Ticket to an exclusive Viking funeral concert by one of the coolest of all Boston Gen-X bands. (And who knew…maybe Kim Deal would even show up!)
I’d missed Live Aid, I’d missed the “secret” U2 show just down the street from me at the Somerville Theater in 2009, but maybe I wouldn’t miss this one. After all, I figured there couldn’t be that many Pixies fans in the area willing and able to drop everything and reschedule the rest of their day for a concert on a school night.
But, of course, I was wrong: by the time I got to the Orpheum at 12:45pm, there were already about three hundred people in line. And by 1:45pm, there were a couple hundred more lined up behind me.
I couldn’t imagine all the people in front of me fitting into T.T.’s, especially if their friends and loved ones showed up to join them (since there didn’t seem to be any kind of “no cut-sies” policy in place, and everyone ahead of me could buy a maximum of two tickets).
Still, at least I wasn’t at home seeing the line on TV or Facebook, regretting and second guessing my decision not to go for it for once. Though it seemed unlikely that I’d actually get into the show, at least I’d come out to participate. I’d bonded a little with the two cute girls ahead of me, as well as the racially ambiguous dude and his older lady friend behind me. My wife, Amy, had come over from her office and thanked me for my service with an ice cold bottle of Diet Coke. I’d thrown up heavy metal devil horn fingers when the Pixies’ video crew strolled by, shooting footage of the crowd. It was a fun way to spend a couple of hours, and I felt like I’d made the right choice to come out (despite the fact some guy from the Orpheum would surely come around the corner any minute to let the back of the line know we probably wouldn’t get in).
Then, right around two p.m., the line started moving…
…and stopped again almost immediately.
As we continued to wait, I heard the two cute girls in front of me talking about the ticket policy, which I’d misread before my hasty decision to head to Park Street. Apparently, each person in line could only buy two tickets IF the recipient of the second ticket was physically present — which meant Amy and I couldn’t go to the show together even if did make it to the box office.
The line started moving again, then stopped. The cuter of the two cute girls in front of me had misread the website, too, and was telling her friend that, given the circumstances, she’d probably just buy her one ticket then give it to her boyfriend, since he was a bigger Pixies fan anyway.
I called Amy to update her as the line stuttered forward again, and she said it was okay if I went to the show alone, because she didn’t really like crowds and figured T.T.’s would be packed to the rafters with sweaty bodies blocking her view of the band anyway.
Only now, the whole thing just felt dumb. It was already 2:20 and I wasn’t even within sight of the Orpheum yet. Even if I somehow managed to get a ticket (which seemed increasingly unlikely), I’d have to go to the show alone…and now that I was thinking about it, I didn’t even really know that many Pixies songs. “Caribou,” “Where Is My Mind?,” their cover of “In Heaven” from Eraserhead (the highlight of their set when Kim Deal sang it at the 2004 Austin Musical Festival), maybe a handful of others…and now that I was being honest with myself, I had to admit the odds of Deal showing up at T.T.’s were honestly pretty slim, too.
On the other hand, I’d already invested nearly two hours in the whole misadventure, the powers that be hadn’t yet advised us to disperse and, as I was equivocating, I finally rounded the corner onto Hamilton Place: the homestretch. The box office was now a single city block away. I could see dazed, giddy Pixies fans emerging from the Orpheum with their tickets and what appeared to be wristbands.
Red, non-transferrable wristbands. The cuter girl in front of me suddenly realized she wouldn’t be able to give her ticket to her boyfriend after all. The racially ambiguous dude and the older lady behind me were on their phones, canceling and rescheduling their various afternoon meetings, uncertain how much longer they’d be stuck on Hamilton Place but in for the long haul.
The sun was beating down, my Diet Coke was long gone, and I’d reached the point where I was yearning for the cool, dark Orpheum lobby more than the actual Pixies tix.
We inched forward again. It was now well past three o’clock. There was still a huge line behind me. The Pixies video crew rushed off to shoot some kind of official announcement to the people way back on Tremont Street, but nobody seemed to break ranks.
Eventually, the two cute girls in front of me disappeared into the Orpheum and emerged moments later with their tickets and wristbands.
I was next.
But then, a strange thing happened. A tiny hippie chick appeared in the doorway, blocking my entrance, grinning nervously and glancing back over her shoulder. She was holding two red wristbands.
“Are those the last two?” the racially ambiguous dude behind me asked, exchanging a glance with his older lady friend.
The hippie chick remained silent, glancing back over her shoulder again, still grinning nervously.
She’s just waiting for the last batch of wristbands, I thought. I mean, surely, if they were really down to the last two wristbands, they would have dispersed the crowd behind me, like, half an hour ago…right?
“So…uh…what’s up?” I asked the hippie chick after another few awkward minutes of silence.
She grinned at me nervously, then resumed glancing over her shoulder.
Oh shit, I thought. Those really are the last two wristbands.
I glanced back at the racially ambiguous dude. He glanced at his older lady friend. She glanced at me.
Fuck, I thought. The dude and the lady seemed to go way back. They’d been talking for the past two hours about all the fun they’d had at T.T.’s over the years, their longstanding love of the Pixies. They were true fans, they knew all the songs, and they’d obviously enjoy the show a lot more if they got to see it together. Me, I’d be going alone.
Fuck. Was I really gonna step aside so that both of the strangers behind me could go? Would I feel weird about it otherwise?
My stomach knotted up and I knew I had to make a decision fast, because a box office guy was coming over with a message for the hippie chick…
…and he had a third wristband. “Okay, you, you, and you,” he said, beckoning the racially ambiguous dude, his older lady friend and me into the lobby…
…and then, with an echoing BAM!!! he slammed the Orpheum door in the faces of all the people behind us.
I was so astonished by the reality show drama of the moment (and the fact the powers that be had allowed people with no chance at tickets to wait in line for so long) that I completely forgot what I was even in the lobby for until the hippie chick snapped the red band around my wrist and pushed me towards the box office window.
A few seconds and 55 dollars later, I staggered back out into the sunlight, where the Pixies video crew was waiting to interview…not me, but rather the racially ambiguous dude and his older lady friend as the last two people to snag tickets.
Frankly a bit relieved not to be interviewed, I rushed back home in a giddy daze to catch up on all the work and emails I’d missed and, of course, to brag about my big score on Facebook….where one of my friends quickly snapped me back to reality with the reminder that $55 for a concert was basically a ripoff, while my friend Tim Sprague from the aforementioned Psychoneurotic Squeeb Band noted, “For the record, I never liked T.T. the Bear’s. They treated the Squeebs like crap, as I recall, and had a shady way of accounting for how many people came to see your band.”
And thus, with any nostalgic melancholy for the final days of T.T.’s summarily tempered, I kissed Amy goodbye, donned the shirt of another lost local establishment (the original incarnation of Somerville’s long-since gentrified Sacco’s Bowl Haven) and set out for Central Square with my Golden Ticket and bright red wristband.
Figuring the club would be too packed to get anywhere near the bar or the stage, I stopped to fortify myself with a Manhattan and IPA chaser at the kind of yuppie bar that wouldn’t have been caught dead in Central Square back in T.T.’s heyday. Recognizing my wristband, the bartender immediately snitched me out to a group of well-dressed middle-aged and late middle-aged country club types a few stools down. “Say, did you hear about the big Pixies show tonight? Looks like this guy got a ticket!”
“Oh, yes,” a woman about my age replied, bemused. “I saw that big line downtown and noticed everyone in it was really old. So, you got a ticket, huh? Congratulations!”
“Uh, thanks,” I said, hastily settling my tab as the aging Caucasians all toasted me, snickering.
It was 8:35 PM. I assumed the show wouldn’t start until ten or eleven (even though nine was the “official” start time on the ticket), but figured I might as well get in line at T.T.’s and start the long, slow process of securing my second (hopefully cheaper) beer of the evening.
Except there wasn’t a line at T.T.’s. Much to my surprise, I simply showed my wristband and ticket, strolled right in, and bellied up to the bar.
By coincidence, the racially ambiguous dude strolled through the door just a few minutes later, so I raised a glass to my comrade in waiting and smiled, “Hey, there!”
But the dude just glanced at me like I’d asked if he could spare a buck for a copy of Spare Change News and quickly scurried away.
Shrugging, I glanced over to see nearly all 297 of the people who’d been in front of me in line now crammed in front of T.T.’s stage, waiting for the show to begin. Crossing over from the bar, I found myself a cozy spot just outside of the performance area with a pretty good view of the microphones and drum kit…
…when what to my wondering eyes should appear but Frank Black/Black Francis, David Lovering, Joey Santiago and Paz Lenchantin (a.k.a., the band’s new Kim Deal) striding onstage smack dab at nine p.m., just like the ticket said.
Without a word of banter or greeting, the Pixies kicked right into a song I didn’t recognize (“Ed Is Dead”, according to Setlist.com), and by the second number (“The Holiday Song”…thanks, Setlist!), Black Francis was already shiny with sweat…
…and it occurred to me that back in the ’80s and ’90s, the Pixies’ front man was always fatter than his fans, and now most of us had finally caught up. In fact, whereas Black Francis used to remind me of an out-of-drag Divine, he actually looked better at T.T.’s than I’d ever seen him, channeling Vic Mackey with his shaved dome and sweaty black t-shirt.
Then the band launched into most of my favorite Pixies songs, nearly right in a row — “Wave of Mutilation,” “Here Comes Your Man,” “In Heaven”, “U-Mass” (arguably the pogo-tastic highlight of the evening) — and I stopped thinking for a while, fully present in the moment while simultaneously astral projecting back to the rooftop parties and patchouli-scented basements of my long lost, misspent youth, happy that I had, in fact, been dumb enough to drop everything and rush over to the Orpheum on a whim.
“Velouria” hit a few songs later, about 45 minutes into the show, and the Pixies still hadn’t said a word to the audience. I was sweaty now, too, and I’d been drawn far enough into the throng that I knew I’d never get my spot with the great view of the side of the stage back if I went to get another beer…
…but I was thirsty, and it occurred to me that seeing the Pixies was only half of the reason I’d come. I also wanted to say goodbye to T.T. the Bear’s (even if they had treated the Squeebs badly back in the day), and so I disentangled myself from the press of bodies and returned to the bar for another IPA, glancing up at the big glowing red sloppy art project heart overhead that would soon be coming down forever.
I strolled to the less densely packed side of the club, and realized I could barely hear the band from over there. Not only that, but my ears weren’t ringing, even though I’d previously been standing just a few inches from the speakers. The Pixies were older now, and apparently so were their ears. None of us really needed the speakers cranked up to 11 anymore.
Then, after swinging by the merch table for a soon-to-be-collectible T.T. the Bear’s t-shirt, I spotted a nice middle-aged lady in sweatpants holding an adorable dog and asked if I could take a photo of the pooch to show my wife.
The woman said sure, then pointed to a teenage girl in the pool room and explained the dog was her daughter’s — and it suddenly occurred to me that I was speaking to Mary Lou Lord, the breathy-voiced Boston busker who’d haunted the subway stations of my college days and nights like a musical guardian angel. She’d sung to me on many a stoned and lonely night back in the ’80s and I’d had a hopeless crush on her ’til the evening I saw her play a show at the Middle East packed with equally smitten New Wave nerds.
Black Francis is middle-aged, too, and so are David, Joey, and Kim.
And me, I’m at least halfway through my life.
But I got to see the Pixies play one last show at T.T.’s.
So give dirt to me, I bite lament
This human form where I was born,
I now repent.