The Music Box
November 19, 2011
If you're just learning that indie rock deity the Pixies were in town last night, there's no need to cry -- most folks didn't know about the gig either, as it was announced exclusively in emails to fans through the band's website.
Tickets sold-out within minutes, but by the looks of last night's attendance, the band must have purposely undersold the Music Box. Already an intimate venue for a band of the Pixies' caliber, there was room enough to press up a few feet from the stage.
The Boston quartet have been reunited since 2004, and remain as raucous and maniacal as ever, delivering a set of gory, scuzzed-out surf rock that left ears ringing and adrenaline pumping.
The band welcomed the show as an opportunity to deviate from their classic 1989 record Doolittle, which they've been playing in its entirety on this tour.
"I think we've played every song we know how to play!" said bassist Kim Deal towards the end of the well-crafted two-hour set. The show was as much for the band as it was for the die-hards in the audience: it included popular Guitar Hero-friendly tracks like "Wave of Mutilation" and "Gigantic," but ran the gamut of psychotic, dissonant favorites like "Broken Face" and "Crackity Jones." To the shrieks of joy from the crowd -- which was largely men in their 30s and 40s -- the Pixies even played two rare Deal-sung songs, "Into the White" and the Neil Young cover "Winterlong," both B-sides.
Despite her frumpy mom garb, Deal might still be the most crushable woman in rock. There's a shy indifference to her stage presence; she stood farther back in the shadows than singer/guitarist Black Francis (né Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV) and lead guitarist Joey Santiago, but threw back Heinekens like she was at the night's first party.
Her bass playing is as heavy and driving as ever, and at 50 years old, Deal's voice doesn't sound a day above 20 -- it's sweet and melodic, with a flirtatious naivete (though it was notably difficult for the longtime smoker to hold out the extended falsetto on "Where Is My Mind").
In terms of stage presence, Thompson isn't an especially compelling frontman, but he doesn't need to be. His performance is in his face (the man's got crazy eyes) and his unhinged talk-howl, which like Deal, sounds as youthful as ever.
Drummer and L.A. resident David Lovering was unexpectedly magnetic to watch, pounding away at his kit with the concerted self-destructive joy of a teenager and taking the mic to croon the Doolittle favorite "La La Love You."
But the Pixies would be nothing without Santiago, who at one point began manically bowing his Les Paul, Jimmy Page style, with a mischevious grin spread across his face. His guitar playing -- a bulldozer of angular hooks and reverb -- is the foundation upon which Thompson and co. can build their crazy, and his legacy lingers in the sound of contemporary heavyweights like TV On The Radio.
That said, the band's extensive touring schedule was evident in their generally weary demeanor. While it was clear they were having a great time playing an unorthodox set, the "in-speak" between band members throughout the set and minimal interaction with the audience showed it to be just another stop on a lengthy set of tour dates.
But who can blame them? The proof is in their sound, and based on that, this isn't a just a reunion tour -- this is the Pixies in their prime.
Critical bias: I worshiped the Pixies in high school and had their lyrics scribbled all over my beat-up Chucks.
The crowd: Die-hards who subscribe to the Pixies' e-mail list. People, mostly guys, who were in high school when Doolittle came out.
Overheard in the crowd: "Kim's taken down more beers in the past hour than all the other guys combined. She's kinda fucked up."
Random notebook dump: Who the hell are these people leaving early?
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There were a few that didn't make it on the list, and the order varied.