Indie icons Pixies weren’t the biggest-selling band of the alt-rock era, but they were among the most respected and influential. Frontman Black Francis’ dynamic songwriting and cryptic lyricism shaped the sound of ‘90s giants from Nirvana to Radiohead. Pixies disbanded in 1993 but regrouped 10 years later; they lost original bassist Kim Deal 10 years after that, but are still a force to be reckoned with as they showed in spades on Monday night.
So it was a pleasure and a privilege to catch the legendary rockers at West Hollywood’s storied, 500-capacity Troubadour for the first performance of a two-night stand that began a handful of intimate club shows (dates include San Francisco, New York and their hometown Boston) before Pixies head to East Asia and beyond this winter. (Pixies’ publicist told us you can expect to see the band in Los Angeles again in the late summer or early fall next year.)
Kristin Hersh, who formed Throwing Muses in the early ‘80s with her stepsister Tanya Donnelly, opened the evening. Hersh played cuts from her latest album, Possible Dust Clouds, and the Muses’ songs “Sunray Venus” and “Limbo.” (Donnelly later founded the Breeders with Deal.)
The Troubadour was packed and the air was electric when Pixies — Black Francis, lead guitarist Joey Santiago, drummer David Lovering and current bassist Paz Lenchantin — emerged onstage and played “Cecilia Ann,” a cover from obscure Finnish instrumental surf rock band the Surftones that opens Bossanova. Black Francis remarked in the past that Bossanova is his favorite Pixies album; it might be this writer’s too, even if it lacks the rawness and mystique of Surfer Rosa or the seeming perfection of Doolittle. In any event, the set was heavy on vintage Pixies: “Gouge Away,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Hey,” “Here Comes Your Man,” “Where Is My Mind?,” “Break My Body,” “Cactus.”
Much has been made over the years about the fraught relationship between Deal and Black Francis. We won’t get into that here, but what we will say is Lenchantin is a consummate bassist. Her voice initially sounds a lot like Deal’s, but the more you listen, the more you pick up on its unique qualities. She harmonizes exceptionally well with Black Francis, and her vocals really shined on the Neil Young cover “Winterlong” (first recorded by Pixies for the 1989 compilation The Bridge) and the Bossanova closer “Havalina.”
(A note about Kim Shattuck: The leader of L.A. punk band the Muffs joined Pixies for a brief stint as their bassist in 2013, after Deal and before Lenchantin. Shattuck died in October, at age 56, due to complications from ALS. She was an L.A. native and a true punk rocker and she is sorely missed.)
Close to two hours in, Black Francis announced, “We’re not going to do an encore, but we will play a little longer,” which was music to our ears. And so they played a couple of final songs, including one of their most aggressive numbers, the aptly-titled “Rock Music,” and “Debaser,” the latter an indelible pop tune about the Luis Buñel and Salvador Dalí short film Un Chien Andalou (“slicing up eyeballs/ha ha ha ho”) that’s quintessential Pixies.