They're mischievous elves — playful, naughty imps with magical powers to lead humans astray. Since declaring themselves Pixies in 1986, musicians Charles Thompson (AKA Frank Black, Black Francis), Joey Santiago, Kim Deal and David Lovering have lived up to that definition, pushing rock into a new dimension.
Even though they stay true to the nature of their namesakes, this band of Pixies has no resemblance to the frail little winged creatures who flit about in fairy tales. This bunch communicates with screams and sonic booms. All mortals who dare to enter the realm of their kingdom should beware — or just say, "the hell with it," lose their inhibitions and enjoy some of the tastiest rock on the market. Though the music lifts audiences off their seats, the band is noted for its stoic onstage demeanor. There's no prancing around, no rock star posing.
For the last year, the band has been touring behind its classic '89 album, Doolittle, with an elaborate stage show backing it. Large screens illustrate Doolittle cuts. Blood drips down to the beat of "I Bleed;" animated hearts with legs strut around to "La La Love You." But the band takes it all in stride. "It takes a lot of pressure off the stoicness," guitarist Joey Santiago says with a chuckle.
The band is working some changes into other aspects of the show as well. For two recent sold-out London shows, tickets were offered only to fans on the band's e-mail list. "We did this show for our fans, we promoted it ourselves," Santiago said by phone last week from his L.A. home. "No Ticketmaster, no extra credit card charge. No other charges whatsoever. You pay your money and you get the tickets. I thought you bought tickets that way anyway," he says, laughing. Obviously a latecomer to hidden service charges added to the price of a concert ticket, Santiago was appalled by the practice. "Who are these people, mobsters? What the hell are they doing?"
The Pixies is offering a recording of that night's performance delivered the next day by e-mail to fans who buy pre-sale tickets for the shows. A CD of that night's show will also be available at the band's merch table.
Concert-goers can expect the night to start with some B-sides, including "Dancing the Manta Ray" and "Weird at My School" before playing the entire Doolittle album.
Extra songs are added afterward, depending on the mood of the band ("Some of them are old standbys that you have to keep doing," Santiago says) and the acoustics of the room. "With a bigger room, slower tempo songs are better suited for it, and if we're in a little club, we'll just do our faster songs."
That would allow little club-goers to witness Santiago's showpiece "Vamos," where he gets to demonstrate what he describes as his "angular'" guitar technique. "When you're playing guitar, you build a shape of what's pretty common and you just try to break up that box," he says. "I try to go in angles; that what I'm trying to look for, just things that are shaped like triangles."
Santiago developed the concept listening to an eclectic mix of music while in his teens. Tired of radio, he discovered his public library let you take out records. "No risk, no cost. Why not? I'll try it. Never heard of it? Good. Put it on, shut up and listen."
But the band stopped listening to each other in 1993, and stayed apart till 2004. Even Santiago, credited with pulling the members back together, says he thought a reunion was never going to happen. But once he got the members together for practice, things started to gel. "We made a pact with ourselves that if we sounded like shit, we would can it," the guitarist recalls. "But as it turned out, it sounded really good. We still had our amps, our guitars from back then and the amps had sharpie markers on them for the settings, our tones and stuff, so we just struck the chords and this thing sounds just like back then."
Santiago says there are no definite plans for a new album. "I'm just happy that people still want us around," the guitarist says. "There's still a demand for us to be heard. We enjoy playing live — it's the best job in the world."