- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 8, 2004

You could scarcely tell that the Pixies were an underground commodity in their heyday 15 years ago, judging from the reception they got at Tuesday night’s sold-out show at DAR Constitution Hall. (Round two, also sold out, was last night.)

“Kind of a swank place, huh?” observed hefty singer-guitarist Charles Thompson, aka Frank Black, in a rare bit of onstage dialogue.

Swank, for sure. Also a bad place for the jagged rage of Pixies music. The reunited Boston alt-rockers — Kim Deal and Three Bald Guys, you could call them now — sounded as though they were playing inside a wet cardboard box. The hall, though hot in climate, was cold and cavernous in vibe.

Yet it didn’t matter much. There are evidently more Pixies fans today than there were in the band’s active period of 1987-92, and for 90 minutes, they treated the Fab Four of college rock like long-lost heroes.

Miss Deal, the bassist whose insistence on contributing to the band’s creative product helped drive Mr. Thompson to solo work, sang the first notes. Maybe it was a token of reconciliation. She warbled “In Heaven,” an ethereal piece from the soundtrack to David Lynch’s movie “Eraserhead.” Mr. Thompson followed with a slightly mellowed version of “Wave of Mutilation.”

Momentum came and went intermittently — much like the slow-fast, loud-quiet structure of Mr. Thompson’s intuitive style. That was partly due to bursts of speed and fury such as “Something Against You,” which ended as soon as it began.

The audience — a mix of first-generation fans and post-alternative youngsters — latched most enthusiastically onto the undeniable hooks of “Nimrod’s Son,” “Here Comes Your Man” and “U-Mass,” the Pixies’ “Wild Thing”-like anthem.

Mr. Thompson effortlessly coaxed hisses, whispers and caterwauls from his larynx. He occasionally sang in Spanish and was sturdily soulful on “Hey.” He wasted little time with small talk, pausing only to inform fans of Neil Young’s authorship of “Winterlong” and the Jesus and Mary Chain’s of “Head On.” It felt like the FBI copyright-infringement warning on DVDs.

The Pixies as entertainers are famously indifferent.

Lead guitarist Joey Santiago, however, stepped out with a half-funny seminar on the ear-piercing properties of heavily distorted electricity. On “Vamos,” as Mr. Thompson took a breather on drummer David Lovering’s riser, Mr. Santiago snake-charmed his guitar with a drumstick as it howled through a feedback loop.

In a parallel universe, Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some!!” would have been on deck.

But arena rock just isn’t the Pixies’ style. Never was. Even when it seemed that the band might have competed on that level — the two-song encore of “Gigantic” and “Where Is My Mind?” certainly sounded as though they were hit songs once — the quartet has played it indie-cool.

“The Pixies Sellout,” proclaims a double-entendre on the back of the band’s official T-shirt. With one of the most successful tours of the year, the Pixies enjoy the best of both worlds.


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