If you haven’t heard, the Pixies have become a franchise, a band that uses its name recognition to suck as much money out of loyal fans as possible.
So it was nothing but odd when, after a blistering, 20-odd song set at the Paramount Tuesday night, the band members removed their instruments, stood together at the front of the stage and bowed as if they truly appreciated the raucous applause they received from the sold-out venue. Didn’t they know they were mere facsimiles of the band we all fell in love with? That this was all just about the money? They never let on. The entire show was played with the vigor of a group that felt it had something to prove.
And of course it did have something to prove. Two things, in fact: First, that the first new music the band has released in 20 years is in fact a meaningful contribution to the Pixies cannon; and second that the band could continue without star-bassist Kim Deal. Nobody should have left the Paramount questioning either after last night’s performance.
At the outset of the show I wasn’t so sure. While I’m a known Pixies apologist, there were several moments during the first half of the set that the band felt sloppy, unpracticed. The Pixies live and die by their deceivingly complex rhythms, and in “Bone Machine,” “U-Mass,” and “Cactus” that double-edged sword was turning against the band. Perhaps Deal was the glue that kept the rhythm section together. Perhaps they did need her.
But no; the final 11 songs of the set eliminated such dour thoughts. “Nimrod’s Son” was re-imagined as a strutting blues lick; “Vamos” was transcendent. But what was most satisfying for a longtime fan was the way the setlist so clearly illustrated how the new material fits into the whole. The set reached a sort of punk climax with a quintet of songs that included three new numbers and two written before 1990. Neither the crowd nor the band let on that there were any discrepancies in their quality—it all left eardrums aching and throats hoarse from screaming along.
As for interloping bassist Paz Lenchantin, there was something almost unseemly about seeing Kim Deal replaced by a younger, skinnier and prettier female bassist, as if the band had ditched their old wife for something sexier. But that aside, where some bands with a quarter century of history under their belts may have tried to divert attention from anything new, the Pixies literally tried to draw the crowd’s eyes to Lenchantin. At least twice the lights cut out on stage to leave her alone in a spotlight, doing a dead-on impression of Deal’s signature husk.
Again, the show was by no means flawless. But to my mind that’s what makes this era of the Pixies so interesting: Franchise or not, they could have easily continued touring with the same music written during the George H.W. Bush administration and still sold out the Paramount. But instead they’ve chosen to be a living, breathing, creating band that at times fucks up but more often wales.
Set list (approximate):
Wave of Mutilation
The Sad Punk
Greens and Blues
Blue Eyed Hex
Isla de Encanta
What Goes Boom
Monkey Gone to Heaven
Motorway to Rosewell
Here Comes You Man
La La Love You
Where is My Mind
Planet of Sound