The Pixies: Live last night
By David Malitz
The Pixies legacy as the wildly influential band that helped usher in the '90s alternative boom is only half the story now. (OK, maybe four-fifths of the story.) When Black Francis, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering regrouped in 2004 it kickstarted a dominant musical trend of the second half of the '00s -- reunions. The band was never shy about its motivation -- the 2004 tour was called "The Pixies Sellout" and Francis told this paper "Do you know how much money we're making on this tour?" We're pigs in [expletive]!" Both statements were tongue-in-cheek, but probably not quite as much as some people thought. Since then the floodgates have burst open --everyone from the Police to Polvo has decided to get the band back together.
It should be no surprise then that for the reunion's second go-round the Pixies are tackling another guaranteed money-maker, performing an album in its entirety -- in this case 1989's soft-loud dynamo "Doolittle." The merits and flaws (mostly flaws) of this trend have been examined and it's hard to defend. Think of it as the musical equivalent of the NBA's slam dunk contest. For people who actually enjoy basketball, it's an unfulfilling exercise that lacks drama, suspense or nuance. It's strictly a crowd-pleaser. But you know, when Dominique Wilkins is throwing down windmill jams, even a skeptic can be won over. And so was the case with the Pixies performance Monday night at a sold-out Constitution Hall. It was more human jukebox than art, but when that jukebox is spitting out searing versions of cornerstones of the alt-rock canon, even a cynic can be won over for an hour.
(No surprises, no problem, after the jump.)
There were no embellishments or new insights added to any of the songs. After opening with mostly throwaway B-sides, it was a sequential exercise in exact note-for-note recreation, but the songs on "Doolittle" are all mini-masterpieces of efficiency, so there was no need to elaborate. The (very) burly Francis somehow still has the lung capacity to be positively frightening when shrieking nonsense about surrealist films, killer waves or various other forms of death. His crisp power chords and Joey Santiago's modest leads proved the perfect complement to each other. Santiago rarely plays more than a single note at a time and has turned the string-bend into an art.
Bassist Kim Deal was the only one who spoke to the audience throughout the evening and the ear-to-ear grin she sported seemed legit; there were more moments of band laughter than anyone could have imagined. All the way to the bank, perhaps, but it made things seem less like purely going through the motions.
The best-known songs from "Doolittle" are all on the album's first side and the choruses of "Debaser," "Here Comes Your Man" and "Monkey Gone to Heaven" all proved catchier than the last. The album's second half proved more rewarding, though. The damaged ska of "Mr. Grieves" gave way to the hardcore howl of "Crackity Jones" which led into the silly whistle-driven "La La Love You," all proving the Pixies had more tricks up their sleeve than a simple soft verse/loud chorus formula.
"Hey" was the best of the bunch, with bluesy licks and Francis barking something or other about whores as Deal joined him for sweet some harmonies amidst the lyrical perversion. For a band claimed as influence by seemingly everyone, there are very few songs like that one.
The crowd hollered for a full five minutes to get the band to come back out for an encore of four non-"Doolittle" greatest hits -- "Where Is My Mind?," "Gigantic," "Caribou" and "Nimrod's Son." The selection was almost as predictable as what was going to be played during the regular set, but wasn't that the point of the whole show? If it's a consumer-based concert, at least send the consumers home happy.
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