Not too long ago, the seminal indie punk group the Pixies played Vancouver; Frank Black, Joey Santiago, David Lovering and Kim Deal played the classic album Doolittle in its entirety in a polished and professional manner. Returning to the same stage several years later, the Pixies have finally moved from the mentality of a reunion band back to a band creating new songs and releases. Original Pixies bassist and female vocalist, Kim Deal, has recently retired from the group to concentrate on her other rock band, the Breeders, and Paz Lenchantin is currently filling in for her as the band’s touring bassist. Paz has played with Billy Corgan’s short lived project Zwan as well as A Perfect Circle and Guy Blakeslee’s Entrance Band. Drawing songs from far corners of their discography and new releases, the revamped Pixies provided an eclectic set of deep cuts, hits and recent compositions. The Pixies have grown not only tighter and sharper compared to recent tours but also more comfortable.
Playing in support of the Pixies, LA surf pop band Best Coast played an upbeat and distorted set. Concentrating around the vocals of front woman Bethany Cosentino, the music of Best Coast sounds sweet and syrupy but suffers from an implicit shallowness. While many of their songs were reminiscent of classic indie rock bands like Guided By Voices, the hooks were more or less confined to vocal melodies. Some songs, while undeniably catchy, are hurt by their length as they over extend their simple structures. Sporting a short cut dress, Bethany Cosentino is a gorgeous front women but ultimately seems a valley girl rather than a gifted poet or a punk.
Knocking open the show with “Bone Machine,” the Pixies appeared warmed up by the time they hit the stage. Bashing through hits like “U-Mass” “Wave of Mutilation” and the Jesus and Mary Chain cover “Head On,” Frank Black (aka Black Francais) & co. wasted no time between songs and kept the show rolling at a professional pace. The excellence in professional musicianship and brashness of punkish music is an unlikely but successful marriage. Meandering deeper into less navigated material, guitarist Joey Santiago lead the band on the Bossanova cut “Anna,” a dripping, spacey number that provokes images of beaches and sunsets. While Frank Black has never been much of a talker at Pixies shows, the man looked in excellent spirits and looks leaner and healthier than in years past.
The sold-out audience was extremely appreciative of classic cuts like “Gouge Away” and “Cactus” but the Pixies also presented a number of new tunes that mixed into their older catalogue of material rather well. Having recently released two new EPs, titled “1” and “2”, the Pixies have a great deal to prove after their reformation and decade long drought of new material. While there was a lacklustre and cartoonish one-off song “Bam Thwok” soon after their reunion tour, the new material feels as a legitimate extension of the band’s sound following where the band’s last album, Trompe Le Monde, left off. “Bagboy” sounded particularly fierce live with the same quirky style, gut churning screams and spastic energy. Like their studio albums, Pixies material can suffer or gain tremendously from production and recording techniques. Live, these considerations are null and the new songs flourished alongside old material.
Taking vocals for his singular lead song, drummer David Lovering delighted the crowd with the Doolittle cut “La La Love You.” Repeating the final lyrical line of the song with his deep and glowing voice, the warmth of the love song was particularly strong. Paz Lenchantin’s bass contributions did not skip a beat through out the evening. Kim Deal composed songs such as “Gigantic” and “Into the White” were respectfully absent from the evening’s set list; Paz did nothing to distinguish herself from the image of the original Pixies bassist. One standout track was “Havalina,” an end track on the Bossanova album that fans would not expect to see performed live, in which Paz beautifully sang the lead instead of Frank Black. Closing out their set with the crunching and heavy onslaught of “Planet of Sound,” the Pixies ended their set before returning for a three song encore.
The Pixies played one more new tune before segueing into “Where is My Mind?,” an unlikely yet stunning classic built over a simple bass. Lead guitarist Joey Santiago’s sharp distorted lead was juxtaposed by Paz’s backing vocals and some of Frank Black’s best song writing. The packed theatre was mesmerized by the anthem which has slowly grown into one of a generation’s favourite songs. Closing out their set with a touch more Surfer Rosa, the Pixies launched into a grinding rendition of “Vamos.” Serving as a background for a spastic and abstract guitar solo from Santiago, the rest of the band took a step back. Waving his gold toned Les Paul over his head and around the stage, Joey blew a few minds and reinforced his reputation of wild tones, thick melodies and economy of style. The band wrapped up the song, took a well deserved bow and bid the audience adieu.
The splendour and extravagance of the Orpheum theatre is a long distance from the humble punkish origins of Boston’s underground; the Pixies are a success story. Not falling into the same common habits, their commercial success is as unlikely as it is deserved.