Five interesting asides to the Pixies' quirky 1989 masterpiece 'Doolittle'

by Chris Riemenschneider

Star Tribune (Minneapolis) (MCT)

22 April 2011

In an effort to keep things fresh in the somewhat glaring absence of a new Pixies album -- the band members say it might still get made, or might not (yeah, thanks) -- Boston's masters of loud-quiet-loud are back on the road playing one of their classic records in its entirety.

Seven years have passed since the night the Pixies played their first reunion show in Minneapolis. Another curious piece of history: Their second incarnation as a band has now lasted longer than the first go-around.

In an effort to keep things fresh in the somewhat glaring absence of a new Pixies album—the band members say it might still get made, or might not (yeah, thanks)—Boston’s masters of loud-quiet-loud are back on the road playing one of their classic records in its entirety. The tour will center around 1989’s Doolittle, a wild tear of an album built on dark, shrieky bursts and bright, surf-riding pop hooks. It’s the disc that turned Black Francis/Frank Black and his motley crew from a cultish college-radio band into an MTV and FM rock staple, thanks in large part to the crossover singles “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven.”

More than a few critics have pontificated about Doolittle being bigger than its radio hits and gold-status suggested, as it may have opened the mainstream’s doors to Nirvana and the alt-rock explosion of the early ‘90s (Kurt Cobain famously said “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was little more than a Pixies rip-off). At the very least, it’s a disc that still stands up from start to finish two decades later and merits this sort of front-to-back live revival.

As the band made its way back to the town that launched their 2004 comeback launch—“We remember that night very fondly, from the crowd’s amazing enthusiasm, to Kim (Deal) getting blisters because she hadn’t played in so long”—Pixies drummer David Lovering helped us pick out some of the more interesting factoids and tidbits about Doolittle.

1. The hit single went missing in action. Even though the song dated back to the early, punkier days of the band, the Pixies did not include the surf-pop sing-along “Here Comes Your Man” in set lists after Doolittle came out. Said Lovering, “We played it for years but had never recorded it. And then when we put it out, we never played it on tour (laughs). And the only reason why is because it really is a pop song, so we thought it was cooler not to do it than to do it. It wasn’t until our reunion in 2004 that we started playing it again.”

2. That’s the drummer singing “La La Love You.” Another song that didn’t often make it onto set lists, it boasts a coyly suave vocal part that seems out of place next to Black Francis’ screechy howl and bassist Deal’s cool harmonies. “A lot of people didn’t know until the 2004 tour that it was me singing it,” said Lovering, who credited Frank/Francis (aka Charles Thompson) with hatching the idea: “I think it was because of the campiness of the song, he thought I could kind of croon it the right way. It took a lot of alcohol to get it done in the studio, because I’d never done anything like that before.”

3. The rest of the band doesn’t know why “man is 5” and “the devil is 6,” either. With songwriter Frank/Francis/Charles holding off on interviews this time around, Lovering and guitarist Joey Santiago are finally admitting the songs on Doolittle are as lost on them as everyone else, with all the obtuse references to horror movies and Old Testament passages and underwater gods (perhaps the singer, too, has a hard time explaining them). “No idea,” Santiago told one interviewer. Lovering agreed: “I’m often the last one to know anything about the lyrics, but that’s true of these songs especially. I know Charles had some kind of concept in mind, but I don’t know what it was.”

4. It’s not the band’s favorite disc. Santiago and Lovering both say they would have picked a different album to play on tour, with the guitarist naming 1990’s sci-fi-ified Bossanova, while the drummer prefers 1988’s scrappy Surfer Rosa. Lovering said, “They’re very different: Surfer Rosa is just so much more raw, and Doolittle is more polished. Surfer Rosa is better to me because it’s the album of songs we learned together in our infant years, so it’s more near and dear that way.”

5. There’s little truth to the Doolittle rumors. Lovering denied the long-held story line that the making of Doolittle was marred by personality clashes, the first big fracture in the band’s eventual breakup. “At that point, we’d been together a little over three years, and any band that’s been together a while stuck in close quarters will get on each other’s nerves,” he said. “It really wasn’t that bad, nothing more crazy than in any other band.”

It’s not so ironic, then, that he said the foursome has been getting along swimmingly playing Doolittle on tour. “We’re having a lot of fun with it,” Lovering said. “We’re trying to play the album to a ‘T’ every night, and the challenge of nailing it from night to night in and of itself has been quite rewarding.”

Topics: pixies

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