All photos: Jason Dixon
Indeed, one can ask what the Pixies really care about in 2014, and the answer Ain’t You. The group’s 2003 reunion has since become the blueprint for how aging indie rockers can make lots of money without really trying. (See: Pavement, Stone Roses, Neutral Milk Hotel.) Pump up the nostalgia, wave to the audience, play Coachella, and—above all else—stick to the hits! Even if unrest still lingers between members, one is reminded of the old hip-hop maxim: money over bullshit.
Sunday’s Strathmore performance may have been expensive, but it was certainly not bullshit. The audience got what it paid for: nearly two hours of a professionally tight band tearing through 33 songs. The three longtime members were joined by new touring bassist Paz Lenchantin, formerly of A Perfect Circle and Billy Corgan’s 100% Natural Fun Time Family Band, also known as Zwan. Considering Lenchantin has dealt with mercurial Gen-X figures like Corgan and Maynard James Keenan, there’s hope she can survive a tour with noted jerkhole Frank Black, who unceremoniously canned their previous bassist.
The hits were a-plenty. The band wisely opened with “Bone Machine” and the Doolittle version of “Wave of Mutilation,” two of the strongest songs in their not-too-large catalogue. It’s interesting to consider that the Pixies were really only around for six years, but managed to squirt out arguably the best debut EP of all time and four albums that ranged in quality from “stone cold classic” to “really fucking good.” To put things into perspective, Fleet Foxes have now been a band longer than the Pixies ever were and they’ve written like three good songs.
“Vamos” was a highlight, as Black receded from the limelight to let Joey Santiago showcase his skill of playing a lengthy guitar solo with a drumstick. Their cover of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On” still goes hard. Drummer David Loverling’s lead vocals on “La La Love You” came across as charming instead of goofy. “Where Is My Mind?” remains one of the finest indie rock songs ever recorded.
Material from Surfer Rosa and Doolittle made up a third of the night’s giant setlist. This may have been a problem for casual fans who only fuck with “Where Is My Mind?” and “Here Comes Your Man”, but to those who have waited years to hear less-played material such as “Isla De Encanta” off the Come On Pilgrim EP or Bossanova’s beautiful “Havalina” were rewarded.
You may have heard that the Pixies have released two EPs since founding bassist Kim Deal left the band last year. You may have also heard that these EPs were not received well by either fans or critics. The band played a total of seven new songs last night, nearly all met with blank stares. Maybe one song , “What Goes Boom,” could stand alongside their older material, but it was still a tactless move to perform so much material that few are familiar with, and even fewer were enthused to hear. Then again, if you wanted to educate yourself, you could have added either EP to your vinyl collection for $40, an outrageous $10 per song. Perhaps Deal deserves kudos for wisely bowing out of the band rather become complicit in begetting these vestigial appendages to her band’s legacy.
I could lie to you and tell you Deal was dearly missed, but the truth is that Lenchantin filled in nicely, supplying the supple basslines necessary to propel “Debaser” and “Gouge Away.” She was also clearly enjoying her time moonlighting as the group’s bassist, perhaps not weighed down by 25 years of intraband drama. It would have been nice to have heard her sing “Gigantic,” but it would have been nice to have heard twenty other songs they didn’t play.
I should note Black didn’t say one word to the audience all night long. Neither a ‘hello’ nor a ‘goodbye.’ He didn’t even crack a smile. When the show was over, he stepped to the lip of the stage and waved mechanically, ignoring those near his feet who were angling for a handshake. As he walked away, his fingers barely scraped the palm of an audience member in the first row. Comparatively, after Lenchantin, Loverling and Santiago put down their instruments, they bathed in the applause and bowed several times to the roaring crowd. Black, off stage in the shadows, watched silently and scratched his face.
FIDLAR, a punk band from Southern California, opened. I’m not quite sure how their PR company pulled off getting the ratty four-piece to open for a band as venerable as the Pixies, but more power to them. I’ve seen FIDLAR before, but their frantic songs about alcoholic austerity, “smoking two packs a day” and doing blow with your boys came across better in the cramped box that is Rock N Roll Hotel than the Strathmore’s gargantuan wood cavern. More or less, this was an example of how the architectural layout of a venue can defuse a band’s energy. You ever been to a punk show where everyone is sitting down? It sucks.