The Pixies, from left lead guitarist Joey Santiago, singer/guitarist… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)
Bands change. Bassists leave, to be replaced by others. As Spinal Tap can well attest, drummers vanish, overdose, spontaneously combust. After the genius Who percussionist Keith Moon died, former Faces drummer Kenney Jones, no slouch, tried to fill in. The Rolling Stones haven't toured with Bill Wyman in ages. Dude from Sublime died, but Sublime (with Rome) still tours. The Doors went on the road with Ian Astbury of the Cult as their lead singer, for heaven's sake.
These are challenging events for fans, not to be taken lightly. At what point does the chain break?
The fortunate few hundred Pixies devotees at the Echo on Friday night found out. One of the great guitar rock bands of the '80s and '90s arrived for its first-ever full performance minus founding bassist and backing vocalist Kim Deal, who recently left the band.
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In her place at the Echo Park venue was Kim Shattuck, best known for her work with the Muffs and the Pandoras. Is it heresy to suggest that the blindfolded wouldn't have known the difference? Perhaps, but as someone who's been with the Pixies since the first EP, I bought in from the get-go, with a few obvious reservations. I'm a Deal fan, after all. I worried, for example, that the new Kim would sing the original Kim's parts in "Gigantic."
Luckily, it didn't come to that. Singer/guitarist/songwriter Frank Black wasn't looking to incite. But the Pixies, who broke up in the early '90s, reunited in the mid-'00s and just released their first new group of recordings in two decades, definitely played the classics, and Shattuck guided the songs with loving devotion and enthusiasm.
Specifically, the band played these songs in this order:
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Brick Is Red
Break My Body
I've Been Tired
Head On (Jesus & Mary Chain cover)
Motorway to Roswell
Another Toe in the Ocean
What Goes Boom
Winterlong (Neil Young cover)
Here Comes Your Man
Something Against You
Wave of Mutilation
Blue Eyed Hexe
Where Is My Mind?
Planet of Sound
Did lead guitarist Joey Santiago smile any more than usual? Hardly. Witty banter from Frank Black? None to speak of -- just a devotion to playing the songs loudly and accurately, with drummer David Lovering at the back of the stage relentlessly banging.
Early songs in the set like "Head On" and "I've Been Tired" didn't arrive with the same punch as the recorded versions; rather, they possessed more groove and swing -- only to pop with exclamation points when Santiago and Black kicked in the distortion. During "Caribou," rather than bellow the words "repent!" as he does on record, Black sang them quietly, with a sturdy but underplayed resolve. Ditto "Nimrod's Son," which the band slowed to half-time at one point, showcasing the elegance of Santiago's guitar line.
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The band played all four tracks from its new EP, titled "EP-1," and it sounded fine, even if it couldn't possibly yet ring with the same rush of enthusiasm as the classics. But "Another Toe in the Ocean" was as solid as anything else in the set.
Shattuck? She was fun to watch, filled the stage with a much needed brightness and certainly knows her Pixies bass lines. She's in the unenviable position, though, of trying to meld into a group of three men with decades of history both onstage and as business partners. Her performance, in fact, was revealing for what it said about the Pixies as a live band.
Many may have thought that reported tension between Black and Deal led to a certain onstage iciness. Friday's gig offered proof that for all the band's talents and way with a rock song, this reserve is in their DNA. They're good, but they'll certainly never be a song-and-dance band.
How will the Pixies' base handle the change? No telling. But the band offers more opportunity for judgment starting Monday, when it introduces the new incarnation with three nights at the El Rey, followed by a night at the Mayan.
I recently sat down with Lovering and Santiago to talk about the new work, and followed that with a fascinating phone conversation with Black about the band's future and past. Check back Monday to read more.
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