Late-1980s indie rock prophets the Pixies might not be the most
obvious band that comes to mind when describing legendary,
crowd-pleasing, sold-out arena tours.
The group, which is largely credited with having invented a
unique blend of punk, surf and pop sounds which would later be
taken up by the likes of Nirvana and Alice in Chains, tends to be
more often associated with professional heights it never managed to
achieve ““ thanks in large part to a well-publicized feud
between bassist Kim Deal and lead singer/guitarist Black Francis
(aka Frank Black, aka Charles Thompson) that eventually led to the
band’s demise in 1992.
But at the midpoint of the North American leg of their Reunion
Tour on Saturday, the Pixies looked and sounded as though they were
finally taking their rightful place alongside acts such as U2,
R.E.M., and maybe even the Grateful Dead.
The Pixies bring the house down. Big ones.
From the vantage point of orchestra seating at Irvine’s
18,000-seat capacity Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, it was apparent
that no matter where you stood in the jam-packed venue, down in the
pit or way back on the lawn, the Pixies were rocking hard enough
and loud enough to make nearly all your internal organs vibrate in
The performance was a study in what it takes to headline a
successful (and yes, dare I say it, profitable) world tour.
The Pixies were smart. They knew well enough that this crowd had
paid good money to hear them churn out all the catchiest songs from
their early recordings. They opened up with “Where is My
Mind?” immediately followed by “Wave of
Mutilation,” which was promptly followed by “Here Comes
Your Man.” They didn’t forget to play “Monkey
Gone to Heaven,” “U-Mass” or
“Caribou,” either. They even went so far as to play the
other, faster version of “Wave of Mutilation” during
the encore, just in case you liked that one better.
The Pixies were also economical. Never ones to indulge in much
witty banter with the crowd, the band was able to roll through
about 30 songs in around 90 minutes. And the Pixies were incredibly
classy. Unlike U2 (for whom the Pixies actually served as the
opening act for their ZooTV tour), there was no monstrously
expensive stage set. Simple, stark, treelike statues, some smoke
effects and a few strobe lights were all the accoutrements needed.
Francis was content to let his sometimes growling, often beautiful
singing voice be the only thing close to decadent in the venue,
either on stage or outside at the merchandise booth.
Interestingly enough, their two September shows at the much
smaller Greek Theatre in Los Feliz, while still excellent
performances, didn’t pack as much punch. In Irvine, Joey
Santiago’s guitar blasted out into the night like a call to
arms. Francis even appeared to be creating so much heat on stage
that steam rose off of his bulbous, bald head. But in the middle of
Griffith Park, with its sub-par acoustics and need to placate its
fancy-pants neighborhood, it wasn’t hard to make out folks in
the back shouting for more volume.
But perhaps the most revelatory conclusion you could draw from
Saturday’s show, and the Pixies entire reunion odyssey since
it began last April, is that the Pixies are having fun.
There was a nearly permanent smile on Deal’s face through
the entire set, as though she had just been told the most wonderful
news and couldn’t stop thinking about it. She and her band
mates laughed together and clearly enjoyed playing with each
And when it came to their curtain call, the band stood together
in the center of the stage and thanked everyone, with no trace of
insincerity, for coming. No storming off stage to their separate
corners. Not even the traditional, pompous
silliness we put up with even from the least tempestuous touring
The Pixies appear to have found themselves at home in big arenas
and, at long last, with each other.