An alien green light washed over a bald rock star screaming his lungs out at Oakland Fox Theater on Friday night. It didn’t matter that he started singing in a different meter; the audience members screamed back the version of “Where Is My Mind?” they knew in cathartic unison. The Pixies are back together, minus one Kim Deal, and their instantly sold-out tour recently made its stop in the Bay Area.
These alt-rock legends are known to some for their distinctive loud-soft dichotomy and cryptic lyrics spewed by the madman Black Francis. To those less familiar with the band, the Pixies are known for writing that one song at the end of “Fight Club” or for being that band Kurt Cobain really liked.
As one of the pivotal rock groups of the ’80s and ’90s, the Pixies had a lot of expectations to face when they put out new music last September — their first new release since Trompe le Monde in 1991. At this point, founding bassist Deal has left the band, the band has independently released two EPs and they are continuing their North American tour.
Black Francis has said if there had to be a representative song for the new collection of music, it would be “Indie Cindy.” For this track from EP1, the Pixies draw on the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur to craft an intriguing plea. Mythology has it that Theseus sailed off for the Minotaur’s head with black sails, promising white sails upon return for success and black sails for death.
Theseus succeeded, forgot to change his sails and caused his heartbroken father to throw himself into the sea in despair. “Indie Cindy” is a plea, unromantic despite the love-song lyrics, to its titular muse. The Pixies are returning with black sails after two decades, testing the waters of a fan base that may or may not still be there.
The band has, in fact, tied its story to that of Theseus in another way. There is a famous paradox of whether the ship of Theseus, with its parts replaced one by one over the years, can still be considered the same ship. Can the Pixies be the Pixies without Kim Deal?
In an interview with The Daily Californian, guitarist Joey Santiago said that in the aftermath of Deal’s departure, the band “had an ‘Oh shit! What happened?’ for about two days, and then they had stuff to do at the studio.”
For now, the band is working with touring bassists Kim Shattuck of the Muffs in Europe and Paz Lenchantin of A Perfect Circle in North America. It was initially disconcerting to hear Deal’s backup vocals replaced by an unfamiliar voice when the band played in Oakland, but it soon became clear that Lenchantin has meshed comfortably with the Pixies. Although they are trying to stay noncommittal, the fit appears to be a good one. Santiago said that with Lenchantin, “We couldn’t be any happier; We couldn’t be ANY happier. We’re going to happy, happy land.”
Santiago also begged the question, “Now is it the Pixies? It’s changed definitely. Kim was a big part of it.” Many would argue that Deal was not a big but gigantic part of it. Pitchfork dramatically rated EP1 as a 1 and EP2 as a 2, and longtime fans are, as expected, chastising the band for the ruination of its own legacy. It was clear just how attached fans are to the older songs when the Pixies started playing “Here Comes Your Man.” When they strummed the first chord of the beloved song, the roar of recognition was tremendous.
Santiago described trying to break out of the nostalgia-band mold they were often criticized for adopting with their past reunion tours, claiming, “We know what the Pixies sound like. We could revert to that. I could just put the Pixies’ signature guitar sound on there, guitar style … Boom, that’s it.”
Perhaps it is less important to define whether the Pixies are the ship of Theseus or not. Instead, fans should ask themselves whether they are holding the Pixies to the impossible standards of born-again legends.
Santiago says to critics of the new music, “It’s too bad you didn’t get it; it’s too bad you didn’t like it; it’s too bad you’re not letting us grow. It’s too bad that we refuse to make ‘Doolittle: The Sequel’ (or) ‘Surfer Rosa: The Sequel.’ We don’t do sequels; movies do that.”
After all, it did take years for audiences to warm up to “Where Is My Mind?” Santiago says that “Some songs you can just listen to once and go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s it … ’ ” The new songs definitely take a few listens. “Not because you have to get used it but because you listen to it more and more, and it’s like, ‘Ahhh … ’ You’re gonna get our little tricks in there.”
Those at the show in Oakland did seem to warm up to the new music, especially stronger songs like “Greens and Blues” and “Magdalena.” Maybe the Pixies have won over their fans again after all.
Contact Lu Han at [email protected].