“This is so weird,”said Pixies’ bassist Kim Deal midway through the band’s first showsince breaking up, via fax, 11 years ago. But maybe she meant spooky. Or perfectly ironic.Years after the music they invented allegedly went bust, the firstalternative rock band has returned for a mega-loot tour. Weirder still:Their first night out wasn’t all that weird. Basically, reunion showsare about past revelations rendered as consumable cliché, so here’s thecliché to take away: It was as if the Pixies had never left. Sure,they’ve collectively bumped up a weight class, and guitarist JoeySantiago’s hairline is no longer an issue. But those distractions, aswell as any lingering awkwardness from their legendarily acrimonioussplit, were washed away on a wave of mutilation (and ironic dry ice).Some have complained that the band must be in it for the money, butthere wasn’t a hint of cynicism in their performance–unless, ofcourse, totally ruling is cynical, in which case, death to the Pixies!
Itwould be an exaggeration to say that a show in a medium-sized club by aband that never sold many records could transform a city, butMinneapolis seemed to be overflowing with civic pride. Having thePixies reunion debut in your town is the alt-rock equivalent of winninga bid to host the Second Coming. Fans outside the 769-capacity FineLine Music Café spun the yarn about a scalper who made enough money topurchase farmland. Which, when you think about it, is the perfectPixies metaphor–with fringe hits like “Here Comes Your Man” and”Monkey Gone to Heaven,” these former 120 Minutessweethearts sowed the seeds of college rock’s cultural come-up. Theywere the first band to gather the tribes: art-school design majors andhigh school goths, sci-fi geeks and skate rats, kids on the soccer teamand the girl who rented Heathers 400 times. They broke ground for DaveGrohl’s swimming pool, then imploded before they got the chance toswim.
But this show wasn’t about self-congratulation. Aside froma few flubbed notes on the opener, “Bone Machine,” and the occasionalsluggish tempo, the band’s 80-minute set was a note-for-noterecapitulation of slept-on glories. Black Francis/Frank Black nailedevery cackle, yowl, and shriek. Santiago peeled the proverbial paintwith unsmiling precision. David Lovering played with limp-wristthunder, both avalanche-heavy and elliptically funky. And Deal seemedmore than happy to remind us once again that if not for herproto-grunge plod, we might have spent the ’90s getting slapped aroundby Fishbone acolytes.
Focusing on songs from Surfer Rosa and Doolittle,the band acknowledged the second half of their career only briefly,with the college-rock satire “U-Mass” and the encore-capping”Velouria.” Instead, they focused on giddy bruisers from the olddays–“Broken Face,” “I Bleed,” “Into the White”–that balanced Black’sruined-teen bleat and Deal’s barbed cuteness. (The instant live CD ofthe show, available immediately following the gig, plays like agreatest-hits disc for people who despise greatest-hits discs.)There were a few theatrical changes of note. Deal stole smokes betweennumbers, rather than puffing midsong. And she wasn’t wearing shorts.More importantly, though, while the Pixies had always been a pretty TCBlive act–blowing through their tunes, barely acknowledging the fans oreach other–they now seem almost friendly.An attempted post-show group bow didn’t go so hot, but there wereenough sidelong glances and reassuring grins to suggest that the bandwas almost as shocked as we were by how transcendent the night turnedout to be. Shy but triumphant, the Pixies may not be back forever, butthey’re back for good.