Rebirth of the Pixies
THEYBLASTED OUT OF NOWHERE WITH A BRILLIANTLY SURREAL SOUND THAT INFLUENCEDA GENERATION OF FUTURE STARS, FROM KURT COBAIN TO THOM YORKE. THEN THEYSPLIT BITTERLY, WITH PROMISES TO NEVER REUNITE. SO HOW DID THE GREATESTBAND OF THE LATE ’80S BECOME THE HOTTEST BAND RIGHT NOW? HERE’S THECOMPLETE STORY OF THE PIXIES–IN THEIR OWN WORDS.
InHeaven and in the Pixies’ dressing room at Paris’ Parc des Princesstadium, everything is fine. Last night, at the city’s Zenith club,guitarist Joey Santiago totaled his cherished Gibson Gold Top Les Paulreissue during a freak-out solo on “Vamos.” But as the sun sets overthe 50,000 fans, the 39-year-old is looking ahead-arrangements arealready being made to buy an original-and bopping around the plushwhite space, blasting Donovan’s dippy “I Love My Shirt” from thestereo. “Play some Rod Stewart!” barefoot bassist Kim Deal, 43, shoutsfrom the couch, where she’s thumbing through a copy of Cat Fancy.Moments later, Deal changes out of her pajama bottoms and does vocalwarm-ups: singing the alphabet and blasting her lungs open with aninhaler. After years of heaving drinking, chain-smoking Carltons is nowher only vice.
Tour manager Richard Jones has set aside a plate of fishfor Black Francis (who signs his autographs “Frank Black,” but reallyonly answers to his given name, Charles Thompson); soon the 39-year-oldsinger/songwriter is picking at it happily. Santiago even dials up somesoothing “dinner music” (Brian Eno) for his bandmate’s pleasure. Aseach bit of anti-drama unfolds, 42-year-old David Lovering, the band’sdrummer-turned-“scientific phenomenalist,” performs some sleights ofhand. With the exception of one mystifying card trick (Lovering pullsmy randomly chosen six of hearts from his wallet, not the deck), theonly thing remarkable about any of this is that we are here at all.
Eleven years ago, the Pixies went through the mostpassive-aggressive breakup in modern-rock history. Nobody died. Nobodysued. They just burned out amid professional jealousy, substance abuse,possible romantic tension, and pressure to deliver on their potentialto be the biggest band in rock. Today, the Pixies don’t seem likeadversaries. They interact with the chummy insularity that firstbrought the four misfits together in 1986. It’s not for my benefit whenThompson offers to place Deal’s travel bag in her tour-bus bunk andcheerfully observes, “You look like you got some sun, Kim” (a lyricfrom their song “Bone Machine,” almost verbatim).
Burying the hatchet has its material rewards. Parc desPrinces is just one in a series of gigs the band has played since theirfirst reunion show in Minneapolis on April 13. Starting in September,they’ll embark on a four-month North American tour-many dates sold outminutes after tickets became available. This, too, is unremarkable fora beloved band’s reunion tour until you realize who’s buying thetickets. A new generation of fans adores the Pixies as much as agingGen Xers who fetishized all those beautifully grotesque album covers intheir dorm rooms. Young, old, older, they’ve filled every seat here inParis, even though headliners the Red Hot Chili Peppers don’t go on foranother two hours. After the show, there’s silence in the dressingroom. Deal and Santiago exchange a glance that seems to say,”Something’s happening here.” And there is.
Unless pressed, the Pixies barely acknowledge their statusas not only alternative-rock heroes but also the key influence onanyone who’s ever muted a verse and detonated a chorus with a shriekand an effects pedal. Earlier today, construction work in front of ourhotel prevented the tour bus from parking, so a van was hired to takeus to the show. Upon delivery, the spiky-haired driver turned toThompson and, in broken English, nearly wept, “Eet has been an honairto drive you here.” “Oh, thanks,” Thompson said with a shrug, notimpolitely, but not too impressed either.
“They’re simple songs,” he told me earlier that day whilefolding his underwear at a local launderette. “‘Monkey Gone toHeaven’-why does it say, ‘Then God is seven?'” he asks. “Because itrhymes with heaven!” Well, yeah, but it’s not really that simple, isit? And neither is the story of the Pixies.