After the euphoric excitement surrounding the Pixies’ reunion in 2004 – the moment where Generation X realized that nostalgia is a very real, powerful, and marketable thing – it was only inevitable that the novelty of having the band back would dissipate over time. Seeing the interest in the band diminish with each subsequent tour date has been fascinating. In this writer’s city of Saskatoon, for instance, more than 6,000 people from all over North America converged to see one of the band’s early reunion dates in early 2004. In 2011, 2,000 people attended the band’s show in celebration of the classic Doolittle album. And on a crisp night in October 2014, the Pixies attracted approximately half that number in the rather sterile setting of the TCU Place Theatre.
Then again, that’ll happen when the wind all but vanishes from a band’s sails. Charles “Black Francis” Thompson deserves some credit for not reducing his band to a cabaret nostalgia act by putting out new music, but the way it’s all transpired over the past year hasn’t made the Pixies look good. Bassist Kim Deal, the lovable yin to Francis’s prickly yang, left the band in the summer of 2013, replaced by Muffs frontwoman Kim Shattuck, who was fired a few months later and replaced by Paz Lenchantin, best known for her work with A Perfect Circle and Billy Corgan’s Zwan. To make matters worse, the band’s first new album since 1991, Indie Cindy, was met with lukewarm reviews this past spring and fizzled commercially.
Consequently, the Pixies’ fall 2014 tour isn’t exactly the most talked-about in the music world at the moment. The band is quietly doing its own thing, performing to dwindling numbers. Although it lacked the magic of that reunion a decade ago, not to mention the presence of Deal on stage left, the performance on this night turned out to be surprisingly raucous and defiant, an epic, manic set that saw Francis, Lechantin, guitarist Joey Santiago, and drummer David Lovering crank out 30-odd songs over a furious hour and 45 minutes.
Striding onstage casually, with no pomp and circumstance at all, the foursome quickly launched into the 1987 favorite “Ed is Dead”, and after that it was off to the races. The ever-irascible Francis didn’t say a word in between songs, merely directing his bandmates through a manic setlist that, as expected, placed special focus on the new record. To the band’s credit, new songs “Greens and Blues”, “Magdalena 318”, and “Indie Cindy” did hold up well enough, but everyone in attendance was there to hear the band’s vast, eclectic collection of classic material, and in the end were not disappointed in the least. Fittingly, Doolittle, the seminal Surfer Rosa, and the Come On Pilgrim EP were given the most attention, staples like “Monkey Gone to Heaven”, “Where is My Mind?”, “Here Comes Your Man”, and “Velouria” offset by deeper, quirkier cuts like “Mr. Grieves”, “River Euphrates”, and “Crackity Jones”.
The dynamic created by Francis and Deal will always be dearly missed, but Lechantin proved to be a more than worthy replacement. Not only is she a superb bassist, tightly anchoring the rhythm section with the fluid-sounding Lovering, but she held her own with those crucial backing vocals that help define the Pixies sound. Wisely leaving Deal’s “Gigantic” off the setlist, the beaming Lechantin was a welcome presence of positivity, performing with energy and grace, clearly enjoying her new role in the band.
Capping the night off with frenetic performances of “U-Mass” and “Debaser”, Francis might not have basked in the limelight during the show like other frontmen would have, but that’s not the man’s style. He and his bandmates graciously thanked the adoring audience, goofed around, and left the stage as quietly as they entered. It might not be the Pixies that those in their 40s remember from their youth, but the songs are still there, the musicianship remains sharp, and best of all, the energy is as palpable as ever. Sure, the new stuff got in the way – damn, I’d kill to hear “Alec Eiffel”, thought yours truly – but everyone left plenty happy and satiated, ears ringing as they headed out into the autumn night.