Judge Bill Gibron says, "here comes your man-na from heaven, Pixies fans!"
Luckily, this monkey isn't quite ready for heaven…not just yet.
The Pixies are impossible to figure out. Popular, but not universally adored in their time, they disappeared at the exact moment when indie rock went from meaningful to murky, no longer lingering in the potent post-grunge era. For over a decade, they were a non-entity, a well remembered outfit with a few recognizable tunes but a far greater reach as an influence. Perhaps it was the constant name checking, everyone from Smashing Pumpkins to the late Kurt Cobain citing them as an inspiration source. Indeed, once the mourners for the late Nirvana frontman fully realized the extent of the "Smells Like Teen Spirit" homage, they seemed to suddenly embrace the band as forgotten gods. Of course, Kim Deal's ascension into the commercial substrata with The Breeders and "Last Splash" couldn't have hurt. Or it could have been that moment when our unnamed hero and Tyler Durden merged to bring down a corrupt corporate financial system, Black Francis' fried voice whining "Where is My Mind?" in the background. That's it—it's all David Fincher's fault.
Whatever the case, the band has returned, going from myth to venerable aging icons on the process. Older, wiser, broader, and a bit more mellow in their senior status; their on again/off again reunion is now in its sixth improbable year. In between promises of new material and the inevitable Eagles-inspired Hell freezing over commitment to continue; Francis, Deal, drummer Dave Lovering and guitarist Joey Santiago have consistently argued for their place among the greats, doing it the way rockers used to do it—live. As part of an amazing three and a half hours of music, the recent Blu-ray release of Pixies: Acoustic (Live in Newport) and Electric (Live at the Paradise in Boston)—both from 2005—suggest that, as long as the members can keep from killing each other, literally or psychologically, they have a brilliant future as a touring machine. Even stripped of all their amplified sturm and drang, their catalog of arcane, eccentric songs seem to transcend time to become the Beatles of bizarro world pop.
Without going into great setlist detail, the Acoustic portion of the show covers all the essential bases, from early favorites "Bone Machine" and "Cactus" from Surfer Rosa to numerous tracks off of Doolittle and Bossanova. Oddly enough, the nylon string set-up seems to argue against the inclusion of much from their final LP together, Trompe Le Monde<. of the 22 songs played at newport, only "subbacultcha" comes from said album. still for fans of first period pixies, this casual overview of their earlier music is memorable. lovering, locked into a simple kick bass and snare set-up, continues to astound as a beat keeper, while santiago and francis find ways to make their hollowed out axes sting with angular grace. even deal seems more calm behind her unplugged bass. the newport show is indeed an epiphany, the MTV Unplugged the band never got around to doing. As a straightforward depiction of the unusual composition style of Francis and his fellow noise makers, the performance is pristine.
As for the Paradise showcase (for about 200 rabid die hard Pixie fans), the roar of the instruments argues for power in maturity. This time around, Trompe is well represented, with "U-Mass," "Planet of Sound," and "Sad Punk" joining the running order (no "Alec Eiffel," sadly). Other highlights include "Caribou" from the Come On Pilgrim EP, "Nimrod's Son" and "River Euphrates" from Rosa, and the 'big hits' "Monkey Gone to Heaven" and "Here Comes Your Man." Like a club date of old, the group responds to the fevered crowd, using their energy to chug through 29 manic planets of sound. In between, they joke. They argue. They mock each other's "aw shucks" demeanor while suggesting that they never really split in the first place. As a matter of fact, if you listen to anything produced by Francis as a solo artist or Deal as part of The Amps or The Breeders, you see that the vibe forged in their 1986 to 1993 beginning has clearly carried over.
Want further proof? Watch the amazing VHS footage of the band circa the mid '80s as part of the TT The Bear's bonus footage. Francis, about 150 pounds ago, is a snarky psychotic bolt of unbridled electricity, Deal over to his left looking like a fashion victim from Saved by the Bell. As they run through a nonstop barrage of soon to be classics—"The Holiday Song," "Ed is Dead," "Broken Face," among 12 other—you can imagine the confused faces of the scattered crowd. This wasn't New Wave and the Seattle sound was still a good three to five years off. Instead, it's the sound of one powerful quartet, offering up their own eccentric take on rock and making the unholy madness wholly their own. Even the 20 year update which sees the band rehearsing for the Newport show suggests a strong will divided into four fevered geeks.
As for the sound and image quality here, devotees will be pleased as punch. The Electric portion was clearly shot on HD video cameras, meaning we get a far more clear and detailed experience visually. The sweat on Francis's brow, the sinew in Santiago's fingers, all stand out in this almost flawless 1080i (boo!) 1.78:1 offering. Newport, on the other hand, has been given that almost unnecessary post-prodution tweak which makes images look like 'film'. While the level of depth is still obvious, the clarity and crispness is missing. Still, both shows look great and are directed with minimal ADD editorial approaches. As for the audio, we are treated to a karmic DTS HD Master Audio which brings both showcases directly into your living room's capable multi-channel set-up. The separation is amazing and the aural nuances outstanding. You can actually hear the "twang" of the acoustic strings and the individual pieces of Lovering's drum kit. While the available LPCM Stereo and 5.1 Surround are okay, go with the high end reproduction. It truly is the sound of the Pixies playing 'loudQUIETloud'.
As we wait to see if announced recording plans pan out, as Youtube and the rest of web nation post every possible handheld snippet of various continuing concert appearances, it's clear that The Pixies are presently enjoying the mass praise that escaped them the first time around. As long as they continue proving the music making mantle with shows like Acoustic and Electric, there will be no doubt of their lasting legacy.
Not Guilty—from the April birds to the May bees, it's educational!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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