Everything is fine: Rumors of the Pixies’ demise are a bit premature

by Ryan Snyder

Follow Ryan on Twitter @YESRyan | @YESRyan

There were moments of inexorable tension at the Pixies’ DPAC show on the last day of January — is it actually possible that we as members of a nearly sold-out audience for a strange and unfamiliar version of one of the greatest indie rock bands of all time were actually enjoying hearing the new song “Indie Cindy” performed live after hearing repeatedly that it is the pinnacle of gaucheness? During some moments, the uptick in effort to pull it off was obvious; new touring bassist Paz Lenchantin dove deep into her diaphragm to pull off the ‘hoo-oohs’ that Kim Deal produced without flinching.

There were those moments that affirmed this version of the Pixies as strange and unfamiliar. Black Francis and drummer David Lovering shared that same googly-eyed chemistry with Lenchantin on the retro saccharine “La La Love You” that they did with Deal. Then there were those moments where the natural order returned and everything just kind of made sense again.

“In heaven, everything is fine. You got your good thing and I got mine,” Francis sang toward the end of their meaty 31- song show. With the departure of Deal last June, that cover of “In Heaven” from the Eraserhead soundtrack returned to his vocal repertoire as front man for the Pixies for the first time since the band initially broke up in 1993. Deal assumed it starting in 2004 when they reunited, and it was as if she had assumed proprietorship of the Pixies with it.

Alt-rock fans had already spent a decade warming up to her as the sweet voice of the Breeders — Last Splash remains more commercially successful than anything the Pixies have done, albeit not nearly as influential — while Frank Black & the Catholics hung on to a raw, but inscrutable punk sound. Thus, seats sold more quickly on her side of rooms and Team Kim was known to break rare silences with vocal worship, and whatever sort of pithy observances on songs she offered was like chum in the water for them. But now Deal has her thing — the Breeders once again — and Francis has his. In other words, the Pixies.

Approaching their 30 th anniversary, the Pixies have already firmly cemented their primary legacy as the band that would shape the sound of an entire decade via punishing rock dynamics and songwriting loaded with cultural rhetoric and ensanguined surrealism. There were reservations, however, that Deal’s departure and the strikingly less than enthusiastic reception to the Pixies first new releases in 22 years — including a mortifying rating of 1.0 (of 10) from Pitchfork for EP-1 — were somehow diminishing the Pixies’ value.

Critical establishment groupthink quickly arrived at the conclusion that the Pixies, having recently emerged from a two-year-long world tour in which they played only Doolittle in its entirety plus a handful of bookending favorites, had dug in as a nostalgia-only act. In reality, there is a heavy nostalgia quotient to be gleaned from any band that’s been around as long as the Pixies, but Deal or no Deal, they’re still a vital force on stage.

Having traded the vesicular stage design of the Doolittle tour for a disco-y wall of transparent panels that both hosted projections and amplified the carrier group-sized lighting array, the Pixies in 2014 still more closely resemble the phonebook-sized, grab bag set list that Francis brought to North Carolina approximately one year ago than the last known version with Deal where they were on the tail end of Doolittle’s debilitating repetition. There was vitality in the band that felt absent from their Greensboro stop in 2011, and not entirely because Lenchantin (who honed her craft under taskmaster Maynard James Keenan as the first bassist of A Perfect Circle) brings a bubblier charisma to her role than Deal, but because the band as a whole was a little more imperative in the presentation.

Francis’s sandpaper croon was in tip-top shape, and though his acoustic guitar still sounds impossibly loud, Joey Santiago affirms himself among the more underrated active guitarists. His grinding riff, Francis’s insistent spoken lyrics and Lovering’s heavy-handed beats on “Bagboy” sounded like the Pixies of old, only with that new face standing where Deal once did. But whatever, she’s got her thing, and everything is fine. !