Written and Photographed by Eric Sperrazza
It seemed that the kickoff to the culture shift of the 90s in entertainment, and the boundaries pushed therein, were almost exclusively a product of the west coast. While bands like Jane’s Addiction, Dramarama, and Alice in Chains were making music that broke the paradigm of rock, David Lynch was setting the stage for the future television age of X-Files and The Sopranos by giving prime time audiences a darkly surreal look into the northwest town of Twin Peaks. The world didn’t know it in 1990, but what was budding around us was about to set the tone for a resurgence of noir indy movies, alternative rock stations & festivals, and television that mirrored cinema more than the homogenized entertainment of the 80s. Even Tim Burton was cutting his teeth as a director with a severe gamble in a cinema, a superhero movie!
What if I told you, however, that there would have been no grunge music explosion in 1991 if it wasn’t for a band from Boston? Because Kurt Cobain and Nirvana dropkicked the door of mainstream radio and ushered in a revolution to the music industry norm with Smells Like Teen Spirit.
But there would have been no Smells Like Teen Spirit without The Pixies.
In 1993 Kurt Cobain told Rolling Stone Magazine that, regarding his breakout song, “I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band — or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard.”
The dynamics of The Pixies just being the tip of the iceberg of what an innovative and influential band The Pixies were and are to this day.
Known for their distinctive blend of post-punk, rhythm & blues, rockabilly, and abstract rock, The Pixies quickly gained attention with their sound. Each song was like listening to a garage session of an intensely artistic and emotional experience. They were slow & sultry and, without warning, hard, fast, and violent. A snapshot of its time, you could almost imagine Sherilynn Fenn sashaying away from the jukebox at the fictional Double R Diner in her saddle shoes as the cacophony of genres merged into something never heard before—all the while with the music feeling murky and messy in its delivery.
The band released their debut album, Surfer Rosa, in 1988, which received critical acclaim and established the band as a unique force in the music scene. Songs like “Bone Machine,” “Gigantic,” and “Where Is My Mind?” showcased their dynamic range and unconventional song structures.
The Pixies continued to release influential albums throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Their sophomore effort, Doolittle (1989), expanded their fan base with tracks like “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Debaser.” The band’s distinct combination of Black Francis’s raw vocals, Joey Santiago’s innovative guitar work, Kim Deal’s melodic bass lines, and David Lovering’s solid drumming created a signature sound that continues to inspire bands today.
Despite their critical acclaim and growing fan base, The Pixies disbanded in 1993, significantly impacting the alternative rock landscape. At that exact moment, the entirety of the music world woke up to the excellence and inspiration that was The Pixies; knee-deep in the MTV-fueled grunge rock era, they were gone. The rest of the band delved into solo passion projects. The most notable was Kim Deal, who went on to form The Breeders with her sister to much success.
After an extended hiatus, The Pixies reunited in 2004, much to the excitement of their dedicated fan base, along with a documentary chronicling the behind-the-scenes goings on of their reformation, “Loud Quiet Loud.”
Since then, The Pixies have gone through a minor lineup change as Kim Deal left The Pixies again to enjoy a sober lifestyle and make new music with The Breeders. Paz Lenchantin, of A Perfect Circle fame, picked up the mantle from Deal, and they continue to tour, record new music and inspire young musicians worldwide.
On June 9th, the current incarnation of The Pixies made a stop at The Met in Philadelphia along with Franz Ferdinand, an outside-the-box Scottish band that found success during the post-punk revival of the 2000s, along with such bands like The White Stripes and The Strokes. Together, they radiated the venue’s regalness and melted it to the ground, all at once.
Going into the show, I could not think of why Franz Ferdinand would be the opener to get the crowd right and ready for The Pixies; a different generation of artists, a different era of music, and maybe even a younger group of fans than could appreciate The Pixies. But during their performance, it was glaringly clear. Much in the vein of the headliner of the evening, Franz Ferdinand performed a dizzying journey through smoky buildups, explosive breakdowns, and living art with music mastery. At times, their stoic look onto the crowd felt like a forceful and deliberate delivery of their music out into the balconies, as the audio rollercoaster took the audience through songs like “Walk Away” and “The Dark of the Matinee.” And yet, with a drop of a hat, the proverbial lever is seemingly pulled, and upbeat singalongs like “Do You Want To” and “Take Me Out” remind everyone that they are having just as good of a time performing for you as you are receiving it. Franz Ferdinand wrapped up their set with a scorching live rendition of “This Fire” and a full-band participation drum solo finale.
The Pixies wasted zero time diving in full force into the evening, opening with “Gouge Away” and onto “Bone Machine.” One of The Pixies’ favorite songs to perform, the murky abstract reincarnation song, “Caribou,” did not disappoint either, with its sultry groove curling down off the stage and into the general populous of ticketholders. The Pixies’ hit, “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” evolved with the crowd into an unlikely singalong of fans. In fact, instead of the traditional jumping, crowd surfing, or opening a pit in the general admission space, those in attendance leaned in and hung onto every note throughout a 90-minute set as if no one wanted to miss one singular inflection in the voice of Black Francis or Paz Lenchantin.
New music from The Pixies’ recently released album, Doggerel, was peppered into the evening, showcasing songs like “Dregs of Wine” and “Haunted House.” The biggest standout of which for me was “Who’s More Sorry Now?”. But all with the same lyrical foundation you would expect from Francis, with a strong lean-in to the chops of Lenchantin’s epic bass work and her superb vocal abilities.
Francis eviscerated his acoustic guitar on one of my favorite Pixies tracks, “Vamos.” Still, the fans were led back to favorites like “Here Comes Your Man” and “Where is My Mind” (Which this humble narrator still cannot hear without seeing in my head Ed Norton and Helena Bonham Carter holding hands while staring at the financial collapse of downtown Wilmington, DE.).
The Pixies wrapped up their grandiloquent thirty-song set the same way they do many a night, with the hit, “Winterlong.” They took to the edge of the stage, hand-in-hand, and gave a gracious bow to the audience. With that, the house lights came on, and like a fever dream in Doc Martens, the night came to an ear-ringing and satisfying end.
Driving home, I waxed on about some strong takeaways. Having never seen Kim Deal in concert, I was hesitant at first to accept Lenchantin into my heart, but as pointed out by former guitarist of 90’s local band, Bystander, Allan Viviano, “Lenchantin not only brings that driving bass of A Perfect Circle to The Pixies, and you can’t touch Deal as a songwriter, but Lenchantin seemingly has a better voice, on top of it.” I would have to concur.
Would I have liked to have heard “Debaser?” Sure. However, simultaneously, not one more song was necessary for that performance. It was a perfectly blended celebration of The Pixies. And I now know the cold hard truth – You cannot call yourself a fan of this band without seeing them give you every second of every song on all eight cylinders, at least once. It is the biggest piece of the puzzle in “getting them.”
Now, I can begin to understand The Pixies.
The Pixies will be at The Stone Pony Summer Stage in Asbury Park, NJ, on August 20th and The Rooftop at Pier 17 in New York, NY, on August 21st & 22nd.