Pixies (illustration by Andy Friedman)
Talk to a musician who caught a Pixies gig back in the late Eighties or at the cusp of the Nineties and it's likely that they were compelled to start a band. Over the past three decades, Radiohead, Blur, Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, and Weezer have all cited Pixies as a point of departure, forebears of their own artistic flights, albeit in different musical directions. Perhaps what made Pixies so mythic was the ephemeral and elusive nature of the band for years. Reverent fans who clutched worn-out copies of Pixies' bibles of indie rock —1987's Come on Pilgrim EP, their 1988 debut Surfer Rosa, or 1989's Doolittle — couldn't see their idols play live for nearly a dozen years after Pixies first broke up in 1993. The weighty import and influence of Pixies is undeniable and remains so today, despite changes, in their current guise.
Like a fractious family, the Boston-bred Pixies haven't always gotten along — bassist Kim Deal has departed twice, once in 1993 and again, after their reunion and with finality, in 2013. But singer and songwriter Black Francis (aka Frank Black or Charles Thompson IV), guitarist Joey Santiago, and drummer David Lovering remain and continue to record with recent recruit Paz Lenchantin taking Deal's place.
Over the course of Pixies' first chapter, which also included 1990's Bossanova and 1991's Trompe le Monde, the quartet's aggravated guitar rock — caustic, catchy, smart, and weird — was part of the volcanic upheaval of bands breaking away from the last embers of New Wave, glossy radio pop, and American mainstream rock groups, like Guns N' Roses and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Along with Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers, Dinosaur Jr., Hüsker Dü, and Soundgarden, Pixies were part of a titantic wave of indie defiance that crashed into the Nineties, cutting a path for grunge and the crystalline, melodic rock of bands like Lemonheads, Buffalo Tom, Belly, Veruca Salt, and Deal's own group, the Breeders.
The Pixies singles that spilled from Doolittle in particular, like the half-hollered, visceral, and unabashedly arty "Debaser," the environmentally dystopian "Monkey Gone To Heaven," and the plucky but deceptive "Here Comes Your Man," were deliciously atypical. But it's the heady depth of the album as a whole, and the band's nimble switch between quieter passages and holy hell, that was a revelation. Pixies never shied from bold, sometimes obsessive songs about violence ("Wave of Mutilation"), sex (Surfer Rosa's lusty "Gigantic"), and biblical catastrophe ("Dead"), and the surreal, Spanish-splashed arc of Black's world view—he's also a visual artist—always colored their perspective. The band's most recent release, 2016's Head Carrier, is named after beheaded saints and martyrs forced to lug their bloody heads around. No one has ever called Pixies predictable.
With that recent release and a world tour continuing throughout much of 2017—including three sold-out dates in New York on May 24 (Webster Hall) and Brooklyn Steel (May 25 and 26)—Pixies are proving that middle age is a necessary time for fresh beginnings—and it's why this beloved, challenging, unconventional band is one of our FUV Essentials.