The reunion of seminal underground rock band the Pixies is remarkable for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the surprising energy and grace that the band — now well into their 30s and 40s — have displayed on a nightly basis.
At the State Theatre last night, during the first of three Detroit shows, the most refreshing part of the performance came at the end. Bassist/vocalist Kim Deal closed the night with the classic, winking naivete of “Gigantic,” she leaned into the microphone and uttered, with a wry smile, “Goodnight Charles.” “Goodnight, Kim,” replied frontman Charles Thompson aka Frank Black or Black Frances.
As recently as one year ago, such pleasantries would’ve been thought impossible. A Pixies reunion was nothing more than the stuff of independent rock weblogs and music-geek wet dreams. The Boston quartet, which released four lauded full-length albums that influenced much of the alternative rock of the ’90s (Nirvana, for instance, freely admitted to borrowing ideas), broke things off in 1992 amid acrimonious rumors of broken hearts and bad drugs. Ten years of Black solo albums, scattershot releases from Deal’s band, The Breeders, and the near disappearance of drummer David Lovering and guitarist Joey Santiago left little hope for reconciliation.
Forgive the shock on the crowd’s collective face as the Pixies, old and strangely affable, took the stage to the tune “I Bleed,” a spiny, self-consciously pretentious punker from their best album, 1990’s Doolittle. On the surface, it seemed that little had changed, save for the relative weight and hairlines of the band members. Santiago’s staccato leads still darted and sliced like knuckles, Deal’s bass dropped melodic bricks and Lovering defended the homestead, all as Black played the psychotic carnival barker, albeit a wiser, somehow sweeter psychotic carnival barker.
Deal’s ear-to-ear smile and the knowing, onstage glances — to old friends — were indications that while the Pixies’s music had remained at the forefront of a usually forgetful underground music scene, the band’s dynamic had changed drastically since it last played Detroit more than 10 years ago. Highlights of the show included the rollicking “UMass,” the serene “Caribou” and a ferocious version of “This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven.” For the last part of the show, the band played to the crowd, who sung in unison to favorites like “Where Is My Mind?” and “Here Comes Your Man.”
The band, more than halfway through an ambitious 61-date tour, never showed signs of fatigue, save for Black, whose voice gave out just before he handed the mic to Deal for “Gigantic.” Cynics might question the renewed friendship of a group of musicians who have been icy silent for over a decade. Money? Praise? For those who didn’t have a chance to see the band during its brief, bright run (1988-1992), however, there was nothing nostalgic about the Pixies’s triumphant return. During the band’s cover of David Lynch’s “In Heaven,” Deal sings “In heaven / Everything is alright.” It felt that way last night.