the loud bassoon concert scene

Pixies @ Greek Theatre, Los Angeles, USA
23 September 2004

Was a time when the Pixies constituted roughly 25% of my listening rotation, the rest being primarily REM, They Might Be Giants and Bob Mould. The latter three have continued to record long past the point of relevance or, arguably, artistic merit. But the Pixies called it quits right at the point when they were about to be absolutely gigantic, and when the next album would have inevitably been God-awful (let's face it, Trompe Le Monde ain't Doolittle, it's barely Poolittle).

As such, the band's few albums are overall very strong, since there was no era of steep decline (the albums are also probably overly-revered for this reason). Their set list for the live show is therefore completely familiar in both a comforting and at times slightly tedious fashion.

On the one hand you've got the songs, which are exciting, thrilling, funny, twisty, and occasionally lovely. And you've got all four Pixies, no replacements, and despite the obvious toll the years have taken, they still have their chops.

On the other hand, you've got the songs, the same songs, always the same songs. No Breeders or solo Frank Black thrown in to spice it up, or unexpected covers. Just the Pixies' greatest hits, plus the much-hyped new song "Bam Thwok." The playlist leaned heavily on material from the first three albums (including almost all of Doolittle, with a limited few crowd-pleasers from Bossanova and Trompe. Wisely so.

Though the whole gig was unquestionably delightful, at times I strongly felt like the audience was collectively a 50-year-old Amish man, and the Pixies his 20-year-old bride we were solemnly mounting to "commit the deed," for procreation only. No surprises, very little joy, and a sense of absolute, resigned duty to the task at hand.

No Pixie reflected this sense more than Kim Deal, who was totally disengaged, often playing while facing away from the crowd, and barely audible when she sang backup. At least Joey Santiago and David Lovering worked for their dinner … of course, the Pixies is all they got, so they better put a little grease into the wheels.

Somewhat shockingly, the band members all look like they're about to die – Frank Black from a massive coronary, Deal from cancerous apathy, Joey Santiago from AIDS, and David Lovering from scrapie.

Black is so massive, I hear he sleeps on bales of hay and bathes in a swimming pool, using rags attached to sticks. He's so fat, they had to reinforce the ground underneath the stage to avoid a seismic cave-in. The dude is fuckin' huge. His head is bigger than a tire, and his ribs were surgically replaced with titanium girders. He's like the Marlon Brando of rock music.

But Good Mr. Francis still sends a chill down my spine when he shifts from baritone whisper to whistling scream, and I've always loved Deal's sexy backup vocals with their offbeat timing. To me, the highlight of the show was her singing "Gigantic" during the brief encore.

They succeeded in re-igniting my interest in my Pixies collection, which will immediately come back into vogue for a few months. I may even buy the B-sides collection that caught my disinterest a few years ago.

The most interesting aspect of the show, for me, was that I did find myself surprised by a number of things, though they had much more to do with my own interior monologue than anything the band was doing.

First, the crowd consisted less of aging rock nerds than a lot of extremely sexy young men and women in tight clothing that showed off their tailbone tattoos. I've often been so insulated from the mainstream that I'm shocked to discover when a my long-standing obsession is actually entirely conventional.

I discovered the Pixies after a youth spent listening mostly to the family record collection, which ran a ragged gamut from Stevie Wonder to Earth, Wind, & Fire to The Time and DeBarge. For a modestly conservative suburban family, we sure did listen to a lot of black people.

So the Pixies were an explosive contrast to the sweet R&B I'd suckled most of my life. At the show, however, their songs came across as very, well, normal. Quiet part, quiet part, screaming part, quiet part. It may be because their dynamlic has since been so assimilated into corporate rock as to even have an influence on TV commercial background music, or perhaps I've always kind of been a scene of one, and there was never any way for me to get an external measure of where the Pixies stood. Who listened to them? Me, and maybe a few others, but not many.

Hence my confused and wondering reaction at such a hip, attractive, sold-out crowd. The teenage girls I sat next to seemed to know most of the words to songs I couldn't even decipher; I'd have felt a lot more comfortable if they were rolling their eyes and saying things like "Gross!" and "Grody!"

Since I'd gotten the tickets for free at the last minute by sheer random coincidence, I couldn't rouse anyone to join me on short notice, so I watched the show alone (a scene of one, again). That made it much more personally meaningful, causing me to think more about the songs and their place in my life than trying to come up with witty comments for whatever fellow reveler might have joined me.

So I got to listen to their songs through somewhat new ears. And I listened pretty carefully. What struck me was that their songs, as loopy and nonsensical as they seem, are really kind of sad. And the days I was most into the Pixies were often the sad, lonely days when I needed to scream but couldnÕt, so I let Mr. Francis do it for me.

Maybe that's putting a lot of weight on a few catchy songs, but something about the fact of a reunion show, and the clear passage of time evidenced by Black's ballooning waistline (and perhaps my own), put those thoughts in my head.

As wistful as that may sound, it was a pretty rousing concert, unfortunately short, and disappointingly orderly and polite (I've rarely seen a crowd disperse so quickly and quietly, even after synagogue).

And though I wish the band had even tried to pretend to care, I'm quite glad I went because I cared, and still do.

Review by Crimedog