A little older and heavier, the Pixies were impossibly perfect at Davis reunion show
“Two more songs till the Pixies,” announced Quitter vocalist D. Scott Sault. And a roar of anticipatory approval responded. Opening for the Pixies has to be tough on any night, but especially on this night, just a handful of shows into a reunion tour that a generation (or two, or three) of music fans has been frothing over for months.
The inside of Freeborn Hall on the UC Davis campus looks like a gymnasium with a stage covering the last quarter of the court. The massive all-purpose hall was completely sold-out, wall-to-wall standing-room only. With Quitter done and having joined the audience, a fog machine began spitting out as much atmosphere as it could muster in the cavernous space, and the crowd inched forward on tippy-toes at this hint that the show would be starting soon.
“Boom,” went Dave Lovering’s drums, sounding out cannon blasts with each snare slap, all alone at first and then built upon by Kim Deal’s signature melodic bass crawling along the ground out of reach of Joey Santiago’s dive-bombing opening riffs that begin “Bone Machine,” off 1988’s Surfer Rosa. And rapping over the top was Black Francis (or Frank Black, or even better Charles Thompson), still exorcising demons with his beautiful and dark imagery of love gone bad, “I make you gray/ You make me hard/ Your Irish skin looks Mexican/ Our love is rice and beans and horse’s lard.”
That basic setup is how it went all night: simple lines setting the table for the strong and forward ("Isla de Encanta,” “Debaser") or delicate and floating ("Caribou,” “Levitate Me") or constricted and dangerous ("#13 Baby") movements, adding and subtracting from the songs in basic dynamics that the entire crowd had memorized.
The Pixies haven’t released a new album in a decade, so this set was what one would expect and want—a greatest-hits display of 22 modern-rock masterpieces. Nearly all the songs were from the group’s first three releases, with only three songs coming from the less acclaimed post-hiatus (the Pixies took a break in 1990) albums, Bossanova and Trompe le Monde.
The Pixies are one of a handful of bands during the ‘80s (R.E.M., U2, and a few others as well) that opened the door for the mainstream success of alternative music in the ‘90s, and as I ran into a handful of people at the show who I grew up with during those years, I grew increasingly contemplative. As the last tune wound down, Deal’s pulsing love song, “Gigantic,” from Surfer Rosa, I sang along with my generation ("a big, big love/ a big, big love") and wondered if we were all still as fresh and interesting as this band that was defying reunion-tour stereotypes by sounding more innovative and alive than any of the thousands of the younger bands its influence has spawned.