Documentary evidence

Three DVDs capture the Pixies’ reunion
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  December 12, 2006

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SLOW LEARNERS: The Pixies needed four or five years to become exceptional.

The Pixies have always been an electric band. Nothing balances well-rounded frontman Black Francis/Frank Black/Charlie  Thompson’s yowling about the numerology of God and the Devil and waves of mutilation like grinding guitars and the heavy snap of an amplified drum kit.

Hell, when the group started in 1986, they barely played well enough to hammer out their songs on stage. That was shortly after Thompson, an anthropology major, dropped out of college to form a rock band, apparently after digging up the demon Pazuzu and becoming possessed. Early on, Thompson, Kim Deal, Joey Santiago, and David Lovering were passionate little devils when they took the stage at Boston area clubs like the Rat and T.T. the Bear’s. But they lacked the blend of technique and panache that makes a rock band — even a primitive punk-rock band — good, not to mention the precision that acoustic arrangements demand. The truth about the Pixies is that though it took them just two albums and an EP to become influential, they needed four or five years of playing to audiences to become true performers. And then, after their 1992 tour, they broke up.

So it’s odd that a pair of DVDs capturing the reunited band in semi-acoustic and acoustic performances would be released within the past month. Pixies Acoustic Live at Newport (Eagle Rock Entertainment) is fascinating, even when the framework for their songs turns weak. Pixies — Live at the Paradise in Boston (also on Eagle Rock) is hideous and uncomfortable until Thompson puts down his acoustic guitar and hefts a Fender Telecaster to join his mates in plugged-in-ville. Then it’s exceptional — an electric Pixies concert that captures the group’s balance of musical passion and mad lyric prophecy. And for those curious as to why the Pixies are playing together again at all, there’s loudQUIETloud; A Film About the Pixies (MVD Visual), a behind-the-scenes documentary about their reunion that’s the finest of these releases.

What’s best about the Newport show is that its 22 tunes set Thompson’s lyrics in sharp relief. Biblical imagery bumps bellies with dark absurdism and contemplations on fate with absolute sonic clarity during their performance on stage at the famed Rhode Island folk festival on a sunny August 2005 day. The summery setting adds some innocence to a set list that’s a fan’s dream. Alterna-hits like Deal’s vocal feature “Gigantic,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Where Is My Mind?”, and “Wave of Mutilation” are balanced by thornier numbers like “Gouge Away,” “Subbacultcha,” and “River Euphrates.” The well-directed multi-camera shoot puts you right in the midst of the Pixies, and that makes it easy to see Santiago and Thompson exchange half-bemused/half-resigned glances whenever the usually bellowing guitar lines don’t make the transition to tinnier acoustic tones. When an audience member shouts for the group to jam, Thompson replies, “We’ve never jammed.” But a few songs later, on “River Euphrates,” he shoots Santiago a sly look and they do just that. Deal appears as nonplussed as ever behind her blimp-sized mariachi bass. Lovering has it easiest; his instrument’s always acoustic, and as usual he provides the Pixies’ pounding heartbeat with methodical grace.

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