Here comes your band: Pixies do a lot with ’little
Given that the Pixies reunion has lasted at least as long as the band’s initial run, it wasn’t shocking that the their Tuesday, Nov. 8 Greensboro show was attended in equal parts by people barely older than their enduring record Doolittle and fortysomethings still wearing out that cassette in a 1987 Cutlass Ciera. Mainstream success was always kept at arm’s length and the most overt attempt to clench it was likely a factor in the Pixies’ premature split in 1993, but since then, the Boston quartet’s potential for rediscovery has not been for want. No doubt many first heard “Where Is My Mind?” in the climatic scene in Fight Club; or worked backwards from the Breeders’ Last Splash (guilty), the most commercially successful work of any Pixies’ member.
God forbid it took the “Gouge Away” feature in the “Lost” Season Three finale, but even then it likely brought fans to the album squarely at the locus of the band for the last two years.
To put the scope of the Doolittle tour into perspective, the album has celebrated two more birthdays while the band has been around the world plying the indie-rock classic’s 20th year. When it finally wraps it up in early 2012, the same amount of time will have passed as did between Surfer Rosa and Bossanova, the fruitful period which had Doolittle tucked neatly in the middle. Fans can debate which is the superior record until the Pixies release new music, but it’s this album and its accompanying multimedia extravaganza that have been the vehicle for the Pixies’ endless romp that has brought them to the crowning Lost Cities leg.
Following an opening set by Pixies’ indie-rock descendents Surfer Blood, the headliners greeted the 1,551 at the War Memorial with clips of Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s “Un Chien Andalou,” paired with an ominous soundtrack, but lacking in spilled vitreous humour (thankfully). Doolittle opener “Debaser,” of course, references the surrealist short film throughout (“Got me a movie/ I want you to know/ slicing up eyeballs/ I want you to know/ girlie so groovy/ I want you to know/ don’t know about you/ but I am un chien Andalusia”), but before frontman Black Francis got into a single wa-ha-ha-ha-ho, the band got reacquainted with their inner B-side.
Under a veil of near darkness, the first act opened with “Monkey Gone to Heaven” B-side “Dancing the Manta Ray” and followed suit with a mini-set of music that probably escaped most Pixies fans back in the day. “That one was pretty obscure, but this one is even obscurer,” bassist and de facto band spokesperson Kim Deal opined before the Latin flourish of “Weird At My School” rung out. They were all obscure in title, but the seeds of ’90s alternative can easily be heard in the “Here Comes Your Man” B-side “Bailey’s Walk,” where the pragmatic Francis’s bristling, off-kilter yowl is reflective of what Kurt Cobain brought to the mainstream years later. That was decades ago, but time has hardly softened their trademark idiosyncrasies.
Then suddenly, there it was.
Deal plucked the opening bass notes to “Debaser” as the five orbs hanging over the stage and the screen behind the band lit up with all manner of thinly-veiled Doolittle symbolism. The Pixies of yesterday would’ve never found use for such theatrics, but it certainly helps to convince the viewer that they aren’t being spoon-fed like a child. For the Pixies fan, the show is nothing short of phenomenal, however. In this context, the eccentric personalities of each song are all the more apparent; there’s inherent violence in “Tame,” while “Wave of Mutilation” brooded with a sinister calm.
“Here Comes Your Man” and “La La Love You” are almost too sweet for the album, which makes them the most devilish of all, especially with Deal’s matter-of-fact backing vocals lending conscience to them. The Lovering-sung latter was dedicated to all the women of Greensboro, no doubt a fill-in-theblank city moment in the set, was just one of a couple of uncharacteristic moments that suggest the band have accepted the corny showmanship that comes with touring for a living. The other came during the encore on “Vamos,” with guitarist Joey Santiago, never really the selfindulgent type, coaxing noise from his guitar with everything from a drum stick to his own foot. It’s for the kids, I suppose.
The encore staples did bring a surprise to the anticipated hit-fest of “Where Is My Mind?” and “Gigantic.” Between the deliberate UK Surf version of “Wave of Mutilation” and an “Into the White” where the stage was literally engulfed in white smoke, the band slipped in a stoic, non-setlisted “Nimrod’s Son” that stretched the set out to 25 songs. So who cares if there’s never another Pixies album with shows like this. Surfer Rosa turns 25 in a year and a half. Let’s do it again then.