Bono, Bowie, Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke have all said that The Pixies are one of the most influential bands of the past two decades. But minutes before taking the stage for another sold-out show during the current Pixies reunion tour of Japan, leader Frank Black isn’t having any of it.
“No, I don’t hear it,” he says commenting on the post-Pixies music scene, “though I can’t say I’ve really listened either.” He later concedes, however, that maybe some of The Pixies’ albums “stand the test of time.”
Judging by the delighted paroxyms of fans and critics that greeted news of The Pixies’ reunion shows in 2004, 12 years after their break-up, the public agrees. So much of contemporary rock, or at least the interesting bits, owes something to the group’s idiosyncratic mixing of surf rock guitar with darkly playful surrealistic lyrics, and their novel collision of noise and melody.
At their recent Tokyo show, the group displayed all of these facets, playing songs from throughout their brief, five-year recording career. The crowd was with them all the way from the darkly poetic “Nimrod’s Son” (most unusual singalong lyric: “My sister whispered in my ear, you are the son of a motherf*@ker’) and the fiercely anthemic “Holiday” to the over-the-top sweetness of “La La Love You.”
If their music was a collision of opposites, “a potpourri” as Black describes it, so was their membership. Black is the moody, nervous intellectual of the group, penning the vast majority of the group’s lyrics and belting out songs in a high-pitched, nasal yelp. Largely terse while performing (and a little large in the girth), he is a far cry from the usual rock hero material.
Joey Santiago’s guitar, at turns slashing and twanging, is arguably the band’s defining element. Drummer David Lovering, a magician when he is not on the road, is the “playful” one in the group, according to Black. While bassist Kim Deal, who plays with sister Kelly as The Breeders, is the cotton-candy voiced counterweight to Black’s more neurotic persona.
“The biggest argument for Kim Deal, aside from her musical contribution, is that the audience loves her. She has a kind of charisma. I notice this much more now than before,” says Black.
Indeed this tension between the four, arguably part of what made the band so unique, also ultimately helped lead to their eventual break-up in 1994.
“I didn’t start the band with this knowledge, but with hindsight, I realized that the better bands, the better artists, tend to let their guard down more and let their personalities step forward no matter what it is,” says Black.
The much-noted strain between Deal and Black was nowhere to be found at their recent Tokyo show. Black seemed happy to hang back and let Santiago and Deal — who opened the show with the lovely David Lynch-penned Eraserhead theme song “In Heaven,” and then closed it with “Gigantic,” — take the spotlight. Indeed once the group caught their groove during the middle of the 80-minute set, they played with the fluid tightness that belied their 12 year hiatus. “It really feels like we just took a short break,” says Black.