Tomorrow night, Houston will witness the return of legendary indie-rockers the Pixies. It's their first show in town since 2010, and obviously a lot has changed about them since then. If you'll recall, the last time was at Verizon Wireless Theater, playing all of second album Doolittle in lieu of any new material, since at the time they didn't have any.
Well, Verizon Wireless Theater is now Bayou Music Center, and the Pixies are playing in the rechristened venue with brand-new songs and a brand-new bassist in the form of Paz Lenchantin, who you may remember from Billy Corgan's Zwan and A Perfect Circle.
Not everyone is excited, though, including me, and I'll tell you why. It's time for the Pixies to retire.
Let's start with the most obvious reason. The Pixies are no longer the same band they once were. Lenchantin is a good bassist who can probably perform all the Pixies classics admirably, but, pardon the pun, no Deal, no deal. Kim Deal was a fundamental part of the Pixies as a songwriter, singer, performer and just as a personality within the group.
It isn't the same without her. It's like that brief period where Aerosmith tried to replace Joe Perry in the early '80s. It's like the phony Guns n' Roses Axl Rose tours without Slash. Kim Deal was as much a part of that band as Frank Black ever was, and without her they have lost a vital component.
In fact, I daresay that's the only reason the band's original reunion tours worked in the first place.
But let's put that aside and give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, the Pixies had been reunited for nine years by the time they gave up on Deal, and hadn't released any new material at all in that time. Anyone who knows Frank Black's career trajectory knows that this is not something he can really take in stride. The man is a fountain of new songs; he's overflowing with them.
If Kim Deal was holding them back from making new music, fine. The only problem is that she was right to hold them back from making new music.
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It's a fair point to make that the Pixies couldn't really tour those same old songs forever. I mean, they only had five records to use to create a set list. People were already getting bored. If you look back, their tours were met with less and less excitement because people knew what they were getting. If they had caught the reunited band before, it was going to be the same the second time around.
So for the sake of shaking things up, maybe it was absolutely necessary to record new material. But the Pixies were a sort of magical thing whose best material was something that could never happen again, and even their last two records showed the inevitable decline once their moment had passed. Those albums, Bossanova and Trompe le Monde, have since experienced a sort of revisionist renaissance, but the decline was patently obvious by Trompe le Monde, which incidentally had the least input from Kim Deal.
If the magic was dying by the early '90s though, it is firmly dead now. Nothing the Pixies could ever do would live up to the esteemed legacy of their early work. Now they've proved that by recording two EPs so far, essentially bland Frank Black solo works. This is exactly what Kim Deal was afraid of all those years.
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These EPs don't sound like the Pixies anybody remembers, save for a few scant traces. They sound like Frank Black fucking around with genre pastiches and Pixies-esque songwriting. It might be more appropriate to say that these are EPs recorded by a band influenced by the Pixies than to say that they are new EPs by that band in the flesh.
They aren't even bad, which is the worst part. If they were humiliatingly terrible, it would at least serve as a minor amusement. They are instead diversions into the kind of bland, generic college-rock that imitators of the Pixies have been spewing forth for the last 25 years.
They're light, somewhat catchy indie-rock records with none of the spark or songwriting genius that an album like Surfer Rosa possessed. They are, essentially, exactly what you would expect from Frank Black in 2014. It's just a shame they have the Pixies' name slapped on them, regardless of how easy they will be to ignore and forget about.
But if the Pixies could not continue without new material, then what's the alternative? Retirement.
It's not so bad, really. The Pixies could have gone on a final tour, with Kim Deal still on bass, played some final shows which of course would attract every fan on earth, and then stopped. Then each could go about their solo careers. These new Pixies songs could exist on the next Frank Black album. The band's name would be unsullied, and we'd remember them fondly as one of the greatest and most influential indie-rock bands to ever exist.
Of course, we still will remember them that way, but these albums will still exist, lurking in the backs of our minds, forcing us to delineate between the new and old Pixies and which version we love and which version we hate.
It's not too late, though. As tragic as it is to see them keep going on like this with these EPs and these half-baked tours with whatever female bassist they can dig up to stand in Deal's shoes, they can still retire now with at least some grace and dignity left intact. They haven't totally driven it into the ground yet.
But it's on Black's shoulders to call it a day. Hopefully, he will come to his senses and retire the Pixies once and for all.
The Pixies play Bayou Music Center tomorrow night with special guests Best Coast. Doors open at 7 p.m.
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