When the Pixies first surfaced on the scene, there were a slew of bands emerging from the shadows of mediocrity at the tail end of the 1980s that were powerful, somehow oddly familiar and yet utterly unique. Nirvana, Jane’s Addiction, Nine Inch Nails, the Stone Roses, Alice In Chains and N.W.A were just a few of the groups that were destroying the expectations of everything from hair metal and rap to pop rock and new wave. The record industry was under siege.
When I first heard a Pixies record I mistakenly thought they were a Mexican punk band. A friend of mine in Hollywood was listening to Surfer Rosa in 1989, and when the Spanglish acoustic freak out “Vamos” came on, I stopped cold and paid rapt attention. Although it reminded me vaguely of The Plugz, who had two Spanish language punk songs on the Repo Man soundtrack, it was far more adventurous musically and unhinged in its narrative subject matter. It was darkly amusing but was certainly no joke. The combination of lurid anecdotes delivered with sweet female backing vocals and Lou Reed-like sing speak, yelping, and blood curdling screams from Black Francis made me feel uneasy yet exhilarated. The music was both smooth surf rock and franticly riotous punk that pulsed, skittered and combusted in three minute vignettes and was like looking through the fence at a peculiar neighbor’s decadent life in zany progress. And by the time I realized that the Pixies were actually a mostly white band from Boston that looked like they were dressed for a college lecture, I was already hooked. So when Doolittle came out I was waiting for it eagerly and it exceeded my expectations. It was the most dizzyingly original record I had heard in years.
And now here it is in 2009, all grown up at twenty years of age, still ahead of the curve. The band that was inspiration to both Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, and lord knows how many other “edgy alternative” bands is celebrating the anniversary with a special edition Doolittle tour. It disembarks at the Hammerstein Ballroom November 23 for four sold-out concerts. The tour kicked off in Dublin, Ireland and featured B-sides from that era and Doolittle itself, from “Debaser” to “Gouge Away.”
This airing out of entire albums in one night is a current trend that I must say works for me. If I know the record and love it than I’ll go. If let’s say, Fall Out Boy or Creed should attempt such a thing I’d know in advance to make other plans. But when Roger Waters busted out Dark Side of the Moon a couple of years ago at the Garden it was nothing short of amazing. Knowing the order of songs before they happen could be considered anti-climactic by some but for me it simply ramped up the anticipation for the next great tune in the arsenal and kept me glued to my seat.
When the Pixies arrived on the scene in 1987 most people had no idea who they were or even what their primary language was. They were on British label 4AD but came from Boston. They played buoyantly depraved songs with needling guitars and thudding bass that were first-person tales of banal characters, ensnared in violently surreal, perverse scenarios that went from quiet to loud, acoustic to electric within the borders of the same song. They literally sounded like no other band had before or really has since. Jonny Greenwood taught himself how to play guitar listening to their records. Kurt Cobain claimed he was pretty much trying to write a Pixies-type song when he created “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and borrowed their quiet loud formula to craft his own musical style, which led to enormous success and his eventual flameout. But the Pixies were always richer in credibility than in record sales. So if you missed the scene the first time around, don’t miss this chance to put some money in their pockets and salute the mad genius of Doolittle when the Pixies come to town.
--Originally published in Encore Magazine, November 2009