[This article has been syndicated here on HuffPo.]
Two decades ago, our tight-knit but too-small Pixies fandom was crushed when our generation’s best-kept secret burnt out after the flames of Trompe Le Monde‘s distorted glory. An apt title: After five stunners in five years, including the towering Surfer Rosa and Doolittle, the also aptly named Pixies appeared and vanished as if to simply “trick the world.”
Yet that heart-wrenching disappearing act was anticipated by “Death to the Pixies!” — an early band poster. Its self-conscious art featured prolific founder Black Francis buck naked on his knees, giving his own band the police verso. Life for the Pixies, as the century closed, was not to be.
Fast forward to our new millennium. After a decade of separation, Black Francis and bassist Kim Deal reunited for an opportunistic 2004 tour. It never seemed to end but nevertheless increased the ranks of Pixies fandom. But Deal has decided against recording anew with the Pixies in favor of devoting her full attention to The Breeders, last seen on commemorative tour for the 20th anniversary of its pop crossover, Last Splash. Once public, Deal’s decision was quickly followed by the Pixies’ first original material in 20 years, as well as a new touring bassist named Kim.
Unbowed, the Pixies’ reconstructed band, and brand, now soldiers ahead with street and market cred to spare.
Yet early and late Pixies adopters shouldn’t snark or sneer. The new Kim — Shattuck, if you please, from indie lifers The Muffs as well as all-female pioneer The Pandoras — is quite up in your face, and ears. Her susbtantial energy gives Black Francis, stoic guitarist Joey Santiago and magic drummer David Lovering a powerfully rebooted operating system for a recently commenced 15-month global tour that will surely supercharge Pixies faithful in Europe later this year.
(Back in the day, our brothers and sisters across the pond always gave the Pixies more love than us locals.)
Pixies OGs ourselves, my wife and I caught Pixies 2.0 at the tail-end of a four-day Los Angeles warm-up, ahead of their European tour and its preceding four-night New York showdown this week. My neck still hurts. My wife, who I met at a Pixies concert in which Black Francis performed in a tux, was all smiles. The fourth consecutive sold-out crowd was amped. The Pixies, to be brief, brought it.
Of course, the quartet was always a performative professional, even in the turbulent times. Whatever creative differences Black Francis and Kim Deal may have had offstage in the 80s and 90s, Pixies concerts remained for myself cathartic vortexes. The band often had to slow down crowd favorites like Doolittle‘s “Gouge Away” and “Crackity Jones” to stop moshers from crushing each other. Pixies never exuded warmth, but they also never failed to reward fans like myself who followed them across states and nations with alternately searing and hypnotic live shows.
Then and today, slower versions of stomps like “Gouge Away” as well as the beloved B-side lullabye “Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)” still managed to captivate. L.A.’s El Rey made its bliss well known in outbursts of movement and noise when Surfer Rosa‘s timeless anthems like “Bone Machine,” “River Euphrates” and “Where Is My Mind?” — as well as Come On Pilgrim standouts like the wistful “Caribou” and the bracing “Isla De Encanta” — gloriously reared their sonic signatures. Even “A-list” tracks like “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” as Black Francis wisecracked to the crowd, were well-represented by his band’s reinvigorated touring unit.
Predictably, the crowd was less reactive to newer tracks from the Pixies recently released EP1 (right), its first original music since Trompe Le Monde, two decades ago. That earnest but uneven reintroduction includes the jagged throwback “Indie Cindy” (below), as well as self-conscious experiments like the explosive “What Goes Boom” and the contemplative “Another Toe in the Ocean.”
That said, I found it odd that the crowd didn’t lose its mind and spine as much as I did to the Pixies’ scathing new single “Bagboy” (above). It’s one of the best anthems the band has ever made, a lyrical beatdown that would have been more than welcome on Bossanova or Trompe Le Monde.
Kids these days. What are you going to do?
Keep calm and rock on, to mangle the cliche. That’s what you’re going to do. After 20 years of the Pixies’ impressive cultural capital, Black Francis has done just that. And honorably, I would argue.
Despite what factions in fandom might feel about the loss of the one-of-a-kind Kim Deal, both Pixies versions are a permutation of the visions sprung deep from the large brain of Black Francis. That tension is why Deal’s influence waned as the Pixies followed Doolittle‘s modest success with Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde.
The benefits of that loss, hard as it was for some of us to bear in the ’90s, has become more apparent as Pixies 2.0 tumbles deeper in the memory holes of our more turbulent ’10s. Newer generations miss Kim less and less, the more the band’s present incarnation tours and evolves into whatever may come next.
So like Pink Floyd and many cultural icons before them, Pixies are successfully moving forward and making art in front of an increasing, and increasingly accessible, fandom that seems pretty stoked with whatever version of it can get. All that seems to matter, to loyalists and noobs alike, is that there is a (power)fully functioning Pixies to continue to worship and wrench their necks to. And they’re getting what they want.
I’ll speak at length later this year with Black Francis, Joey Santiago and David Lovering about their reengineered legend. Until then, don’t miss last century’s Pixies with this century’s kinetic new Kim on the Pixies’ exhaustive global roadshow.