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Sunday 19 November 2017

Rock: Surf's up, The Pixies are back

No Deal: Pixies are back – but without their talismanic bassist Kim Deal, on stage this year with the Breeders
No Deal: Pixies are back – but without their talismanic bassist Kim Deal, on stage this year with the Breeders

Nick Kelly

Where's Kim? That was the cry from Pixie heads when it was announced that the iconic Boston-formed band were releasing their first new material in 20 years as a three-piece without their talismanic bassist.

Yes, the Pixies without Kim Deal is like Hamlet without the princess – but she did a runner shortly after the grunge legends began recording what would be EP1, which was released in September.

The verdict on the new material was decidedly mixed, with US indier-than-thou website Pitchfork taking, well, a pitchfork to Pixies Version 2013, awarding it a jaw-dropping one out of 10 on its rating scale.

When he was asked for his reaction to Pitchfork's skewering, Black Francis – now known by his birth name Charles Thompson – surprisingly stood up for the critics' right to take a hatchet to the new EP, arguing that nobody should be surprised if the website does what it says on the tin.

Thompson also argued that receiving rotten reviews was all part of generating heat around a record – which can be no bad thing. It makes a refreshing change from po-faced 'artists' such as Kelly Jones from Stereophonics penning poison-pen letters in the form of a song ('Mr Writer') to journalists who dared to give the thumbs down to their new direction.

Personally, I really think the new Pixies song 'Indie Cindy' is a wonderful slice of surf-rock noir and would be considerably higher on my Pitchfork-ometer than 1/10.

That said, I do think 'Bagboy' goes on too long and sounds like it could have been written by someone other than the Pixies – which is not something you could ever say about their towering back catalogue.

But maybe it will work live. Fans must think they've died and gone to monkey heaven at the prospect of two Pixies concerts in the Olympia later this month.

The first time I saw Black Francis's gang live remains indelibly imprinted on my mind. It was at the National Stadium as part of the Bossanova tour in 1990. I was standing near the front for opener 'Cecilia Ann', but, by the end of the song, I had been lifted to the back of the mixing desk by the frankly feral frenzy in the moshpit. And that was just for an instrumental.

They came back the next year to The Point – their following having quadrupled by the time Trompe Le Monde came out in 1991. They were still ass-kickingly good live, but the draughty venue didn't help them.

Incredibly, they were only second on the bill to Red Hot Chili Peppers in the Phoenix Park in 2004 when clearly it should have been the other way around, but they did get to play their own open-air headline show in Lansdowne Road the following summer in 2005, supported by Kings Of Leon (before they became an arena-conquering band themselves) and their old friends Teenage Fanclub. I remember it was so wet that Kim Deal got a soaking from the sodden tarpaulin overhead. A typical Irish summer al fresco show, then.

They finally played the great indoors with a three-nighter at the Olympia in 2009. This would be the last time Irish audiences saw the original line-up.

But whatever one thinks about how the Pixies sound today, no one can deny just how far-reaching their influences has been on this thing we call rock music.

Their famous quiet/loud dynamic was aped wholesale by everyone from Nirvana (Kurt Cobain was the first to put his hands up and admit that 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' was a Pixies knock-off) to, oh, about a thousand and one groups since.

Surfer Rosa and Doolittle remain two of the greatest albums in any known (and unknown) universe, and Bossanova and Trompe Le Monde were also flawed masterpieces.

People have such high expectations of the band that it was never going to be possible to please everybody. How dare they reform! They've ruined their legacy! Those are cries you always hear when a much-loved group from times past start up the band again. But why shouldn't Rosa surf again? No doubt the moshpit will be heaving again with a younger generation yet to suffer the slings and arrow of arthritis. But that's the Pixies: a band of the ages – and for all ages.

nkelly@independent.ie

Pixies play the Olympia, Dublin, on November 18 and 19.

Irish Independent

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