Music review: Pixies, iTunes Festival

 

Pixies perform in New York
Pixies perform in New York

The Pixies without bassist Kim Deal should feel like a jam sandwich cream without the sugar-coated jam. The best bit is surely missing and with it the warmth and the evocative, breathy vocals the charismatic Deal provides.

However, Kim Shattuck, lead singer of the Eighties pop-punkers The Muffs, who has the unenviable task of taking over backing vocals and bass duties, is excellent. The 50-year-old is overseen by the impenetrable frontman Frank Black, who still resembles a slightly cross manatee, and his unique brand of post-punk menace. A studiously head-banging Shattuck doesn’t let anyone down, but it's notable that “Gigantic”, on which Deal memorably sang lead vocal, is sidestepped.

The Boston four-piece, implausibly, reformed in 2004 for the dough. This was after 12 years of acrimony; Black was rumoured to have informed the band by fax that they were splitting up. Anyone who has watched Steven Cantor’s Pixies documentary loudQuietloud knows that the tour couldn’t come soon enough for drummer Dave Lovering, who was a struggling magician. The reformation was a storming success and, finally, after 22 years they’ve now released new material too, first “Bagboy” and then the four-song EP1, featuring the typically angry “Indie Cindy”, with the unfortunate lyric “You put the cock in cocktail, man.” It’s a perfectly respectable slice of despair but it doesn’t possess the vitality of their heyday – 1987 to 1993 – and their 1989 masterpiece Doolittle in particular.

The new tracks - four in total - prove pretty painless, but their performance is galvanised when Black and guitarist Joey Santiago stick to the late Eighties template. In other words, there's plenty of otherworldly wails delivered about his favourite themes (disfigurement, familial abuse, dysfunction – fun stuff) on still vibrant (and unnerving) tracks such as “Hey” (a highlight tonight), “Wave of Mutilation” and ”Caribou“. And the Pixies rattle them off with minimum fuss and zero chatter. They don’t need to engage, not with hook-laden gems like ”Where is My Mind”, “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven“ in their locker.

Nirvana are often cited as their biggest supporters, but Pixies feel much more like a prototype for earnest grungers Pearl Jam, and their “unique” sound often comes across like a blend of Velvet Underground, T-Rex and old fashioned rock'n'roll.

Essentially they're a quartet of around fiftysomethings thrashing out tunes about teenage concerns in front of an audience (who form a small moshpit) who were, predominantly, toddlers when Pixies were at their most vital. For me, it's a nostalgia trip and it works a treat. Even without Deal.

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