Working in an independent CD store in the late ‘80s, I had the luxury of previewing pretty much anything that came through the store. And if it was something on Chicago’s Wax Trax! or England’s 4AD, it was pretty much guaranteed I was going to give it a listen. On the 4AD label, the Pixies were an anomaly: A band that didn’t fit into the typical Ivo Watts-Russell stable of lush ethereal and atmospheric soundscape artists. I remember listening to Come on Pilgrim and Surfer Rosa with curiosity, but it wasn’t until Doolittle was released in 1989 that I was completely blown away like everyone else listening to college radio. There was something revolutionary about the album’s twisted, kinky lyrics and jangly, forceful music. Within three years, the revolution would have taken its toll, and the band fantastically imploded with front-man Black Francis/Frank Black faxing his intent to dissolve the band to his mates. Almost 15 years later, Time the Healer and Money the Motivator conspired to bring them back together.
In just under three weeks in the spring of 2004, the Pixies went from the opening warm-up club show in Minneapolis, Minnesota, to playing to 100,000 fans at Coachella in Indio, California. And those disparate venues are all represented in some way on the Sell Out DVD: from smaller arena shows (Tsongas Arena in Lowell, Massachusetts) to huge European festivals (The Move Festival in Manchester, England, and T in the Park in Edinburgh, Scotland). The main titles of the proper feature roll over a cleverly edited composite of seven different live performances of “Bone Machine”. While the main feature is comprised of 27 songs captured at the Pixies’ Eurockéennes Festival appearance in Belfort, France, on 3 July 2004, “Bone Machine (World Tour Version)” serves as a taste of the other venues represented in the bonus tracks.
As with every appearance the Pixies have made since reuniting, the crowd is firmly on their side from the onset, and this show is no exception. From the set-opening UK Surf version of “Wave of Mutilation” all the way through to the encore of the album version and beyond, there is nothing but love between the fans and the band. In between, all the favorites are present and accounted for, with the exception of “Debaser”. There is raw punk energy that pulses through the four-song stanza of “Crackity Jones”, “Broken Face”, “Isla de Encanta”, and “Tame”, feeding the crowd. There is pure pop goodness that emanates from “Veloria”, “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, and the ode to a hobo classic, “Here Comes Your Man”, for a sing-a-long. Unlike the disorienting quick-cuts on the Cure’s Trilogy concert DVD from a couple of years ago, Eurockéennes Festival footage director Fabien Raymond and DVD editor Christine Mitsogiorgakis do a good job moving from shot to shot, and tastefully mix well-placed crowd shots with band footage.
The main set’s final number, “Vamos”, is an opportunity for Joey Santiago to take center stage and entertain with his guitar work. As with other stops on the 2004 Reunion Tour, Santiago perched his guitar on a guitar stand and coaxed all sorts of distorted, witchy screams and fuzzy feedback from it using everything from an array of effects pedals to David Lovering’s drum stick. All the while, Black is seated on Lovering’s drum riser near bassist Kim Deal, and you get a genuine sense of admiration among the band.
Chemistry for the Pixies on stage, both between each other and with the crowd, is anything but orthodox. Deal and Lovering project the closest thing to personality on and from the stage, as the camera often catches them smiling or laughing at each other or the crowd. As far as banter from the stage goes, well, Deal does greet the Eurockéennes crowd with a “Comment allez-vous, motherfuckers?” at the beginning of the set.
There are a few surprisingly honest moments that stand out from this show that provide a glimpse into the characters behind the band. There is a strangely cool moment during “Broken Face” when Deal drops the ubiquitous cigarette from her lips while playing and sings the first refrain of “I got no lips, I got no tongue / Where there were eyes there’s only space / I got no lips, I got no tongue” while exhaling. That her voice, despite her chain smoking, remains the lovely counterbalance to Black’s mad scientist screeching is nothing short of a miracle. Another great moment comes before the encore, as the band is at the front of the stage soaking up the crowd’s adulation: The band is talking among themselves and appears to be deciding on what songs to do for the encore, and at one point Black catches the camera’s eye low and to his left and gives it a sort of half-smile and a nod that speaks volumes.
The bonus material is on par with the main feature with regards to song choices and, for the most part, video quality. The primary bonus feature is a set of 15 tracks from seven different locations that can be viewed intercut with interview footage of tour manager Richard Jones and production manager/lighting designer Myles Mangino. You can play just the bonus songs without the interviews, but you sacrifice the title cards before each song that includes song name, location, and dates, which would have been a nice touch for the “play songs only” option to retain. The interview footage can only be accessed as a part of the larger package, but Jones and Mangino offer nothing revelatory.
Of note among the bonus feature tracks are three songs from the Pixies’ coming out party at Coachella (“Caribou”, “Gigantic”, and “Into the White”) and the only appearance of “Debaser” on the DVD (from T in the Park). The footage from the Austin City Limits Festival (“Subbacultcha” and “Vamos”) and the Fuji Rock Festival (“Crackity Jones” and “Nimrod’s Son/The Holiday Song”) is the poorest of the group. But the footage that bests even the Eurockéennes Festival of the main set is the three songs from their homecoming show at Tsongas Arena. The video quality and the energy level of the de facto hometown crowd are exceptional, especially on “U-Mass”. (The complete Tsongas Arena show was broadcast on Time Warner Cable’s iNHD high-definition station in October as Pixies Come Home and it was stunning, which helps explain why the quality here is so good. Here’s hoping that show also receives a wider distribution.) Also available as a bonus feature is MX Monkey’s Choice—an alternate angle track that allows the viewer to switch between six different camera angles during The Move Festival performance of “Monkey Gone to Heaven”.
Presented in widescreen and with both 5.1 Dolby Digital surround and 2.0 PCM stereo (stick with the 5.1 presentation), Sell Out is a nice package that captures the energy of the Pixies live. In addition to the audio discs that were available for purchase at the venues immediately following many of the shows, this DVD is a great way to commemorate the reformation of this influential band nearly 15 years after they peaked and walked away, vowing to never work together again. Lightning in a bottle, indeed.