The Pixies Live in OC
By
Brian Dowell
11/1/2004 7:37:10 PM

The Pixies
Verizon Wireless Amphitheater
October 23, 2004


Among music fans of my generation, the Pixies reunion was both anxiously awaited and unexpected. They were, by many accounts, the most fascinating, underrated band of the modern rock era. But as their sketchy history and their initial breakup indicated, the band always thrived on a delicate tension; a fascinating battle of Black Francis' and Kim Deal's artistic visions and rock star sized egos. Every Pixies fan had heard for the last ten years horror stories of how much these two hated each other, how they'd never speak to each other or sing Pixies songs again, and it frustrated those of us who discovered the band after they broke up This explains why young rock scribes tend to treat this Pixies reunion tour like it's the return of Christ. Actually, most of us are more excited than that about seeing the Pixies, since journalists are, by nature, cynical heathens and Jesus never wrote anything near as catchy as "Gigantic" or "Wave of Mutilation". On this website, as well as in most any other refuge for music minded commentators, literary petals have been thrown at the feet of the undeniably weird quartet.

This obsession with the Pixies makes sense to me, and it's not just because they're my favorite goddamn band in the world. Modern alternative rock, in anything resembling its present form, would not exist if it weren't for the contributions made by the Pixies. Even though mainstream success generally eluded the band in its heyday, their influence on music and on the culture around them cannot be overstated. They were the first popular band whose best songs revolved around the quiet verse/loud chorus device now employed by every shitty band on your town's "alternative rock" radio station. The financial success of their tour not only remains a testament to the lasting power of their awesome music, but adds some hope to an otherwise depressing election year.

I attended their October 23rd performance at a big, annoying, corporate amphitheatre in Orange County, with the highest of hopes. The evening got started with a lackluster performance by Irish band, the Thrills. I thought they were simply OK and found nothing in their music to really latch on. The other opening band is a much loved LA quintet called the Mars Volta. It was some metal, jazz fusion, rip-off Led Zeppelin thing that kids in the crowd seemed to love, and that I enjoyed (they're certainly talented) but I didn't quite get their appeal. In many ways, The Mars Volta are the opposite of the Pixies. The Pixies' songs are, with rare exception, very short and economical, packing more vivacious emotion in a three minute faux-pop song than most bands manage to capture in their entire catalogue. Volta's songs, on the other hand, amble along for twenty minutes and don't really go anywhere.

Then, after a long delay, the moment occurred that some of us had been waiting ten years to see; the Pixies took the stage. Led by the always interesting and increasingly chubby Black Francis (or Frank Black or Charles Thompson, or whatever he's calling himself these days), and featuring the brilliant guitarist, Joey Santiago, the always impressive drumming of David Lovering, and the talents of bass player, Breeders lead singer, and world's loveliest backup vocalist, Kim Deal, the Pixies immediately launched into their most emotionally stirring song, "Where is My Mind?". Frank Black continued to hold on to his acoustic guitar and the band played slow versions of "Here Comes Your Man" and "Wave of Mutilation." Other personal highlights of the night were the inclusion of many songs from the heavily underrated Pixies album, Trompe Le Monde, ("Subbaculta", "Planet of Sound", "Head On", "UMass" and a few others) the amazing harmony displayed by Deal and Black, especially on "I Bleed" and, in general, the great guitar work of Santiago.

The Pixies are so great live simply because they have no gimmick. They're not MTV friendly "pretty people", you'll never see them conferring with the likes of Ashlee Simpson on TRL, they don't wear costumes, they don't converse a lot with the audience, they don't implore their audience to clap their hands or support political causes. They play a wide variety of their wonderful songs, each one alternately catchy, fun, surprising and heartbreakingly beautiful, and that's all their show really needs to be. The Pixies don't disappoint, and in this year full of societal disappointments, meeting high expectations is a rare gift indeed.


 

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