|Pixies, The: Sell Out|
|Written by Dan Macintosh|
|Tuesday, 04 October 2005|
The phrase that best describes the Pixies’ story is: better late than never. The band’s fan base prior to their 1992 breakup was a small, select group. Their following has grown significantly since then, however. This concert DVD finds the four-member ensemble basking in the glory they really should have received way back when all these songs were still new.
This disc documents the band’s triumphant 2004 reunion tour. Its central 28-song portion is drawn from the Eurockeennes Festival in Belfort, France, but many of the package’s extra performances are highlights from a few other high-profile festivals, such as "Gigantic" (taken from Coachella in Indio, CA), and "Debaser" (at the T In The Park in Edinburgh, Scotland). When you add all these songs together, the total is a whopping 43 live clips! -- one healthy helping of Pixies music.
Performance DVDs are intended to capture the excitement of a concert. But what if a show just isn’t? An unexciting concert: must be an oxymoron, right? After all, rock performances are, almost by definition, innately energizing experiences, at least most of the time. And granted, some of the audience members sure look enthusiastic here. But these Pixies fans are not mimicking what's happening up on stage. That’s because the Pixies – Black Francis (aka Frank Black), Kim Deal, Joey Santiago and David Lovering – are four of the most stoic figures in all of rock.
Many rock acts build ramps that go up, down and all around their stages, and when these hyperactive folks are playing it looks more like a track meet than a rock concert. There are no such pathways or appendages on any Pixies stage. Such embellishments would be entirely unnecessary. These performers stand in one well-worn spot and let the music do all the talking. Heck, they don't even look at each other most of the time! And there is very little band contact with the audience. Deal might crack a broad smile now and again, but that's about it.
With all physical motion subtracted from the equation, this music better be good. And it is. The Pixies came along just before alternative music began to produce big dollar signs in the '90s. Bands like Nirvana owe the Pixies a big debt, because this Boston act cleared a path that led to their (and many others’) huge payday. The Pixies woulda-shoulda-coulda been big.
Fronted by Frank Black (as he is now called) on guitar, and at times co-fronted by Deal, on bass, the group proves that these Pixies songs are just as potent today as ever. Rounded out by David Lovering on drums and the shiny-headed Joey Santiago on guitar, the band is caught here playing its many small gems before big crowds. There are no quibbles with the set list; it’s hard to go wrong with special songs like “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Where Is My Mind?” Nevertheless, one has to wonder if it was really necessary to include duplicate takes of “Bone Machine.”
Reliving these songs brings to mind some of the similarities between Nirvana and the Pixies. Sure, Nirvana was much heavier and sludgier than the Pixies. Nevertheless, Black is, like the late Kurt Cobain was, beautifully cryptic. By studying these song lyrics you can generally gather what they're talking about most of the time, yet there are few specific details contained within them. To his credit, Black doesn't mumble the way Cobain could, so even though you don't always know what he's singing about, at least you can understand his actual words.
The Pixies’ arrangements are just as precise as Black’s diction. Nirvana oftentimes kept their songs raw and sloppy, whereas the Pixies come off more like Felix Unger neat freaks. These tunes are also surprisingly slow and measured. Maybe that’s why the band doesn’t move around a whole lot. Most songs are highlighted by Deal's rumbling bass, without a whole lot of Santiago guitar noise. In fact, Santiago rarely plays any solos at all, which is very much a punk ideal.
Vocally and lyrically, this is mainly Black's group. Although it's not unusual to give fans only one vocal and focal point, many believe that this lone wolf arrangement was what broke up the band., Kim eventually sought out her own Deal (so to speak), after Black completely took over songwriting and singing duties in the band. However, after the success of Deal’s side group the Breeders, it’s hard not to question Black's artistic stubbornness. If the Pixies had stayed together, and if Black had given Deal more room to contribute to the group’s output, might it have also had a few more hits, like The Breeder's smash "Cannonball"? Nobody knows for sure, but it's fun to speculate.
Fortunately, the group was able to set these differences aside and play together again. It's heartening to see the Pixies playing in front of all these large crowds. It richly deserves all the attention. Over the last decade or so, the individual Pixies have continued to produce music. But their sum as a band is far greater than the individual parts. For instance, I once saw Frank Black at a club show where he opened for an act much smaller than the Pixies. And let me tell you, that was one small crowd! After his set, Black even walked out and milled with the sparse audience. That scene contrasts greatly with what you see on this DVD, which shows Black inhabiting large stages before great throngs of people. During Sell Out, he comes off as a bigger than life superstar.
Many of these clips were shot in Europe or at big U.S. dates, such as the Coachella Valley Music Festival. Some of these fans were seeing this influential band for the first time. These were not, however, your garden-variety music fans. Instead, they were music lovers who jumped at the once in a lifetime chance to catch the reunited Pixies. So, like it or not, the Pixies are probably destined to forever be a cult band. Granted, their cult fan base appears to be a little inflated, based on the size of these festival audiences. But it's still a cult act nonetheless. Chances are, after all these reunion duties are finished, individual Pixies will go back to playing the clubs. But at least for this one tour, the group members were treated like kings. The Pixies may have titled this disc "Sell Out," but despite overflow crowds, this fine band never truly did.
The sound on this DVD is terrific! The bass production is so fine, in fact, Kim Deal actually sounds like she can play. (Kidding aside, she's a fine bassist.) Even though this is live music, many of these performances sound like studio takes.