Monday, December 20, 2004

Resurrection to the Pixies

In a departure from the esoteric world of politics and foreign policy, I would like to offer my homage to one of the most underrated and undervalued bands of the last 20 years: the Pixies. It was in the crowd of their show at the Hammerstein Ballroom this past Saturday night that I had occasion to reflect on the magnitude of this band, and on the peculiar circle this night had formed in my own life.

The Pixies first broke on the scene in 1987 with an EP entitled Come On Pilgrim and proceeded to release a succession of ground-breaking full length studio albums in each of the next four years. Despite the fevered pace of recording, each album was of a high standard and significant to the progress of modern music, although in my opinion Doolittle represents their creative apex (with Surfer Rosa finishing a close second). Their particularly potent blend of clever songwriting, which fused an unpredictable union of melody and force, paved the way for the evolution of other influential bands like Nirvana and Radiohead, (both Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke, respectively, were self-avowed disciples of the Pixies' sound). But their influence has extended well beyond those two, despite their relative lack of fame, as it is hard to imagine any modern rock musician who has not been in some way affected by the Pixies - whether they know it or not.

This tour was something of a reunion for the band that parted ways in the early 1990's to pursue alternate projects like Sandy Koufax, still riding the crest of their fame, abilities and relevance when they called it quits. The first time I saw the Pixies was in 1991 while I was still a high school student. The band has changed some since then, as did the crowd - myself included, which was a constant source of reflection throughout the evening. The 1991 show was obviously rawer, and the performance was more dynamic, as should be expected given the relative youth of the musicians. As for the crowd, it was thinner than the current tour (apparently the legend has grown since then) but decidedly more energetic in its tribute - let's just say the 12 hole steel toed Doc Martens I was wearing came in handy amidst the stampeding tussle of the pit.

Saturday's concert, on the other hand, was the first of two sold-out shows with a midnight performance scheduled hours after the first would end, which gave the evening a somewhat unseemly Vegas-like feel (not that I begrudge them their right to make a little money off their impressive contribution to music, but I don't recall ever seeing a band knowing they had a repeat performance looming). A slightly older set dominated the venue, and there was less Bacchicalic reveling (although I did my best to uphold my part of the bargain) and controlled violence amongst the concert goers. Still, despite the nostalgic melancholy lurking in the shadows, the music was as vibrant as ever, dispelling the cobwebs built up in their absence. And the passage of time didn't seem to affect the band's ability to transition seamlessly, and without pause, from one tune to the next. There was no idle banter in between songs and no time to catch their breath - just a no-nonsense, machine gun fire recital that defied age and the years spent apart. Even the encore was no-frills: they didn't saunter offstage and wait in the wings for the requisite plaintive applause. They just put down their instruments, acted like the show was over, paused to survey the ecstatic audience and then re-equipped and resumed play. Fitting coda for a band that never quite did what was expected of them musically or professionally.

While music is on my mind, I would like to open the floor to any suggestions for best album of 2004. Although I thought 2003 was a better year, I think there are some solid contenders for this year's crown, but would love to hear more from the masses. And feel free to chime in with other notable underrated bands, like the Stone Roses for instance....

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