We’re chained to the Pixies

By HermineBloom

If you’re like me and you’ve played the Pixies’ Doolittle as background music for virtually every friend’s gathering in the past five years, then well, hearing the iconic, punchy beginning beat of the song “Debaser” live probably made you melt. This, of course, speaks volumes of the wildly influential punk-rock-meets-surf-rock band that essentially gave birth to the entire alternative rock movement.

All that really means, though, is that I’ll involuntarily select Doolittle when I’m riding the El, cranking out another story, in a melancholy mood, a great mood or completely and utterly disgusted by everything on my iPod, which does happen from time to time. You name a mood, I’ll consider listening to Doolittle—it’s that versatile. So you can only imagine the anticipation leading to the show at the Aragon Ballroom, 1106 W. Lawrence Ave., on Nov. 21.

To me, summing up the impossible-to-sum-up stems from the 20 to 30-year-olds who have especially fond memories of blasting this quintessential rock album in their mothers’ rusty sedans on their way to high school. The band, having influenced everyone from Kurt Cobain of Nirvana to Isaac Brock of Modest Mouse, wasn’t even close to popular when their albums were first being released. Instead, the group has retroactively changed the face of the rock and punk genres as we know it, laying the groundwork for the alternative rock music explosion in the ’90s, with a career punctuated by tumultuous, dysfunctional band relationships among its members—perhaps almost mirroring the very nature of their hard-around-the-edges sound.

The Pixies’ performance, aside from the fact that they didn’t seem to particularly enjoy themselves during the beginning of their set, reminded the yuppies, the hipsters who idolize ’80s and ’90s punk rock and the parents of aforementioned sub-cultural groups why Doolittle never left your best friend’s six-disc changer.

The screeches, howls and almost psychotic use of repetition are all hauntingly remarkable, organic and ultimately worthy of serving as such an inspiration for alternative bands to follow.

In other words, actual fans who weren’t impatiently waiting for Fight Club’s anthem “Where Is My Mind?” were fully aware that the members of this band don’t really care for one another anymore, but they also realized that it didn’t take away from the impact of their music, judging from the crowd’s blissful expressions, ludicrous dance moves and effervescent sing-alongs.

Kim Deal, the Pixies’ bassist and point of controversy for lead singer Black Francis, was the only one who addressed the crowd, which she did sparingly. Deal, Francis, guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering kicked off the final night of the Aragon’s festivities with a few B-sides, that Deal admitted were “B-sides so obscure that we had to learn them.”

As soon as the beat of “Debaser” rumbled its way into the pits of everyone’s stomachs, the set-list was no longer a guessing game. Doolittle, first released in April of 1989, boasts lyrical and compositional themes of surrealism, death and torture. The crowd knew all of this, though. No one was scratching their head when “Debaser” began and most attempted to imitate Francis’ guttural screams when “Tame” erupted.

“Wave of Mutilation” and “I Bleed” followed suit, of course, sounding strangely full and powerful for the Aragon, which could have been the result of standing next to the left speaker. Quickly following “I Bleed,” members of the crowd tugged on their friends’ sleeves professing their love for what would come next, which was “Here Comes Your Man,” arguably the most mainstream Pixies song behind “Where Is My Mind?”

“Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Mr. Grieves” and “Hey” all stick out since they prompted the most insane and in some cases, drunken sing-alongs, making it plainly obvious that your cousin’s sister couldn’t have dragged you unwillingly to a show like this.

What’s most notable about this performance, however, has to do with their overall shift in attitude once they started playing their second set. What must seem incredibly flattering and baffling is the amount of lasting, stupid grins visible in the crowd from, say, Francis’ perspective on stage. It’s hard to comprehend. But rather than appear noticeably humbled or act overly thankful for the product of their accomplishments, for a while it felt as though the Pixies were just doing their job, getting paid to perform something great—as simple as that may sound.

That is, until the second set rolled around. Santiago shredded his guitar with sheer ferocity. Deal donned a real, genuine smile. Francis remained somewhat unchanged, although his vocals were still fantastic. And Lovering’s drumming matched that of Santiago’s guitar tricks. In fact, at one point, the band performed amidst clouds of ominous smoke accompanied by strobe lights, which emulated arena rock, but somehow felt epic and deserving, rather than clichéd.

Three encores closed out the show, which consisted of songs like the UK Surf version of “Wave of Mutilation,” “Something Against You,” and “Gigantic”—all of which were well-received, eliciting yelps and embraces amongst friends everywhere you looked.

Regardless of the fact that their more recent albums flopped, or that their bickering led to their eventual demise, the Pixies have nothing to prove. Their music, in this case, overshadows any shortcomings when it comes to delivery, and few bands have reached such a status.