Pixies show refined, matured sound in Oakland performance

Skylar De Paul/Staff

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The Boston rock band Pixies walked onto the stage of Oracle Arena on April 10 as if it were still 1988 — the year it released its signature album, Surfer Rosa. On tour with alternative-rock legend Weezer, Pixies seemingly laid out its career for the world to see; unlike most bands that keep its shows consistent on a tour, Pixies decided to change the setlist of every show.

Every song performed held a certain twang that can be found in many early ‘90s alt-rock bands such as Radiohead, who was heavily inspired by the Pixies’ signature “loudquietloud” sound. Lead singer Black Francis’ massive acoustic guitar was dissonant in sound, as if it were both far away from the song itself and still tying the band together. Francis’ outfit, made up of a pair of black sunglasses and a black shirt, set the tone for the show before a note was even played, demonstrating that while Pixies may have been around for more than 30 years, they’re still as cool as popular artists today.

One of the first songs performed was the band’s biggest hit, “Where Is My Mind?” During Pixies’ performance, Francis carried every lyric with the same passive attitude that the song so effectively replicates — the question of “where is my mind?” being expressed with the deliberate bluntness in his voice. The song seemed to have aged — that is, it seemed as if the instruments had grown older with the very people playing the tune. This musical maturity was not a visual experience, like seeing a fanbase grow up or seeing musicians age physically; rather, the sound itself was filled with experience and refinement.

This sense of maturity was seen even more clearly in the song “Cactus.” The live sound was much more subdued than the 1988 recording on Surfer Rosa. Bassist Paz Lenchantin confirmed through this song that female bassists are certifiably the coolest people on earth, as she channeled Karen O’s edge and Zooey Deschanel’s confidence. There are plenty of ‘90s rock bands with female lead singers, but it was refreshing to see a female instrumentalist rocking just as hard in a space usually dominated by the boys club. The indie grit in Lenchantin’s background vocals provided a distinct contrast to the masculine deepness of Francis’ voice.

A jolly energy swept the arena with “Here Comes Your Man,” driving together the strings of the bass and guitar to brighten the sound. The colors in the room became more vibrant as the crowd stood up almost in unison to dance to this 1989 staple. The crowd continued this energy all the way through “In the Arms of Mrs. Mark of Cain,” a new song that’s set to release this September. This song held lots of grungy undertones but stayed consistent with the band’s American rock and indie vein.

While it was a stellar performance from every angle, one can’t help but think it would’ve been nice to hear from the band more between songs. Many of the songs hold a similar tone and pacing, so breaking them up by talking to the audience and telling some stories would have helped the flow of the setlist so the songs didn’t seemingly blend together.

But this definitely didn’t stop the crowd from reliving everything that is loved about the ‘90s music scene, as rockers young and old synchronized in a sea of smooth head bopping.

This consistency abounded in songs such as “Gouge Away” that turned the mood of the concert from more of a sit-down event to a wild floor of raised drinks before you could even begin to think it was over. Drummer David Lovering never missed a beat, picking up the pace and sending anyone still sitting onto their feet almost immediately. The band’s punk side filled the second half of the show, getting the crowd a little rowdier in the most exciting kind of way.

This served as a perfect ending to the show — high energy, more experimentation and a tip of the hat by guitarist Joey Santiago every time he hit a power chord. The feedback glistened during the last song, sending off the Pixies as they came to the front of the stage in a powerful line to bow and complete the performance. Thirty-three years of performing together definitely looks good on this band.

Skylar De Paul covers music. Contact her at [email protected]. Tweet her at @skylardepaul.