Pixies – the Space at Westbury – September 22, 2017
Pixies don’t banter. They don’t do it slick. They don’t waste time. You wouldn’t call them nihilist, but their music usually paints in life’s darker corners, and they don’t mind some mess and abrasion in it. Sure, there’s nostalgia in the inevitable airings of big Pixies songs—“Wave of Mutilation,” “Debaser,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Where Is My Mind?”— but the band doesn’t serve them nostalgically: They mix with newer-era Pixies songs in a forceful, workmanlike way that can leave you brooding, rocking out or losing your balance. It may be 1989 or 2017, but your mind is in the moment.
That Pixies can still do this despite a major transition in their lineup—the departure of Kim Deal and arrival of bassist and multi-instrumentalist Paz Lenchantin over the last few years—suggests their service is to the music, which, save for backlight drama or a fog-machine blast or two, doesn’t rely on (or need) much spectacle to feel huge. Pixies strain everything from psychedelia and noise pop to country and blues through what might be called a classic “alternative rock” sound, and then scuff it up good. This isn’t and never has been comfortable, slip-on rock and roll. And that’s true even with the sunnier, more upbeat tone of their post-reunion records, Indie Cindy (2014) and Head Carrier (2016), whose songs are of a piece with the band’s off-kilter legacy material and slot in appropriately throughout a 90-minute-that-only-feels-like-20-minute show, the cultured Pixies weirdness still apparent even when dressed up in happy melodies.
At the Space on Friday, they launched into “Wave of Mutilation” and from there didn’t take much in the way of pauses, peeling off songs one after another: rockers, stomps, chugging metallic boogies. All in all, they got through about 30 of them, with standouts like “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Head Carrier,” “Crackity Jones” and “Um Chagga Lagga” mixing as ingredients in a spiked cocktail with the likes of “Velouria,” “Cactus,” “Snakes” and their gnarly version of Neil Young’s “Winterlong.” In some cases, the songs blurred together, around different sounds, around Frank Black’s piercing screams or Joey Santiago’s mighty smashing guitar, and that seemed to be the intended effect—a Pixies set is ultimately a panorama. Kind of a fucked up–looking panorama, maybe, but that’s life, as Lenchantin, Black, Santiago and drummer David Lovering would probably remind you. —Chad Berndtson | @Cberndtson