The Pixies Re-Form, Return With a Vengeance: Concert Review
El Rey Theatre
(Monday, Sept. 9)
When the Pixies decided to stage a reunion tour in 2004, it was both the beginning and the end of an era -- for the same reason: by virtue of playing just a handful of shows, the notoriously tumultuous, late '80s-early '90s college rock icons, who broke up via fax machine, essentially threw away credibility for cash, admitting that the draw of dough outweighed any long-standing interpersonal disagreements.
But a funny thing happened during the last decade: the Pixies looked like they actually enjoyed playing together, going on multiple runs in recent years and playing classic albums like Doolittle in their entirety. The band even hinted at writing new material together -- a rumor that became fact with the release of five new songs this year.
Those songs arrived at the same time as another major milestone: the re-departure of Kim Deal, the band's founding bassist and, some may say, their most famous member (she always shared the spotlight with frontman Frank Black, while drummer Dave Lovering and guitarist Joey Santiago played more sideman roles). To longtime fans, replacement bassist Kim Shattuck has got some big shoes to fill, not so much sonically (Deal's bass lines mostly chugged out the root notes of the band's punk-laden tunes), but certainly personality-wise. After all, the unlikely, somewhat unwanted chemistry between Deal and Black has always been a part of the band's appeal.
Unsurprisingly, Shattuck was up to the task at Los Angeles' El Rey on Monday night, when the re-reunited Pixies blasted through twentysomething (or was it 30-plus?) songs in just over an hour, saying very little but clearly enjoying themselves in a way that suggests this is no longer about collecting a paycheck. It was Shattuck's second time onstage with the band (they played a surprise show at tiny L.A. club the Echo last week), but she's clearly intimately familiar with such classic Pixies material as “Gouge Away” and “Debaser.” It's no wonder: her band, the Muffs, emerged around the same time and traveled in similar melodic, punk-influenced circles. Indeed, her onstage aura and overall aesthetic is a clear match.
More surprising was how good the new material went over. “Bagboy,” the band's oddly electro-influenced single, found serious power behind it live, with Santiago's chunky guitar overstepping the programmed beat to sound, well, Pixies-ish, rather than a mid '00s version of what the Pixies used to sound like. Likewise, both obscurities and new songs delivered the right amount of pummel and shake, thanks in part to an arena-ready lighting setup that found the band playing in front of a reflective backdrop and in moody shadows for most of the night.
Despite the rabid crowd's pleas for an encore -- which continued well after the house lights came up -- there was nary a one, which meant that the Pixies biggest songs, “Where Is My Mind,” and “Here Comes Your Man,” went unplayed.
It didn't matter: the intent was to prove that personnel changes didn't mean death to the Pixies. And there was no question, at that point, that they were very much still alive.
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