Frank Black once said that the only way the Pixies would get back together was if one (or more) of the band members needed an organ transplant.
18 Nov 2004: Aragon Ballroom Chicago
But then, we all know how loud money talks, and in 2004 it’s been shouting at Black and his fellow Pixies to the tune of a sold out world tour and a thundering hailstorm of acclaim and adulation.
After attending the fourth of five(!) sold out Chicago dates, I can confirm that the hubbub is well-deserved. This is, after all, one of the more important bands of the last quarter-century, the kind of band by which people identify themselves.
If you were lucky enough to be a Pixies fan in 1990 you must have known you had stumbled onto something extraordinary—something unique and brilliant, something light years from other “alternative” bands: U2, R.E.M., and the like. The Pixies were loud, soft, sad, smart, ferocious, fun, and, best of all, weird—the weirdest band in the business, singing songs about aliens and architects.
Like all great bands, they broke up at the height of their popularity, leaving younger fans like myself devastated, yet faintly hopeful. Offshoots such as the Breeders, the Martinis and Frank Black, with his wildly erratic solo career, made us think that maybe, just maybe, the band would someday put aside their considerable differences and get back out there, together.
Flash forward a decade. The Aragon Ballroom holds close to 5,000 people and on this night, as for the previous three, it was sold out. The Pixies came out right on time, flanked by Marshall stacks set on either side, looking a little older and balder than I expected. They opened this set with “La La Love You”, a little known gem from Doolittle that finds drummer David Lovering assuming lead vocals. It seems an odd choice to open the gig—that is until the first chorus comes along. Then, one by one, they begin pledging their love to each other, and to us: “I love you/ I love you/ I do.” It’s a love fest right from the start, and when the band heads straight into “Here Comes Your Man”, a song I once claimed to despise, all the bickering and verbal bullshit evaporates. We’re left with a terrific band brandishing an outstanding arsenal of classics.
The meat of the 28-song set comes in a flash. “Bone Machine”, “Is She Weird”, “Levitate Me”, and “Velouria” fall in a rapid succession, barely leaving the audience time to take them in. The band’s sound is impeccable, as if they’ve spent the last decade touring together in a van and not, as is the case, staying home getting older and fatter.
When the band barrels into their delicious (and vastly superior) version of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s “Head On” something strikes me: The Pixies were/are a nearly-perfect band. They’re revolutionary and vastly influential yet not so artsy and highbrow that they came off stiff or stuffy. These are songs with tremendous staying power. While the band did stick mostly to material from their two acknowledged masterpieces, Doolittle and Surfer Rosa, they steered clear of set standards such as “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Into the White”, opting for slightly more obscure favorites such as “Isla de Encanta”, “Subbaculcha”, and “Nimrod’s Son”.
The Pixies’ ability to mix and match the setlist and their willingness to dig deep into their catalog speaks volumes to their talent as musicians. Of course it also speaks to the rabid appetite of the long suffering fans who have demanded this reunion.
Joey’s mind blurring solo during “Vamos”; the outright glory of “Gouge Away”, their best song ever; the piercing, falsettoed WHOO-OOH‘s that shake the ceiling during “Where Is My Mind”; the unbelievable triple-threat that closed the set (“Wave of Mutilation”, “Debaser”, and “Hey”); Kim’s classic vocal on “Gigantic”—all incredible moments.
Thanks so much to Charles (Frank), Kim, Joey, and David for letting bygones be bygones and reluctantly accepting the truckloads of cash they’re raking in for this little get together. It may just be a run-of-the-mill nostalgia trip for some, but for me it offered important closure. The itch has officially been scratched. Death to the Pixies!
// Notes from the Road
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