Wednesday, December 2, 2009

In 1989, I attended a Love and Rockets concert in Detroit. Opening for them was a band few in the audience knew, a quartet of odd characters calling themselves the Pixies. With a portly frontman clad in an impossibly oversized - and grimy - T-shirt; a twitchy, pencil-thin mustachioed lead guitarist; a gawky drummer with a receding hairline; and an undeniably pixieish female bassist, they appeared awkward, timid and nerdy as they milled about onstage before the start of their opening set. Once their set kicked in, though, those hasty first impressions - especially of timidity -were demolished.

The Pixies’ sound was savage - a wall of well-arranged noise, with bursts of Motown-quality melodic hooks, odd time signatures, close harmonies, subdued verses and bashing choruses. By the time the devilishly cherubic frontman began croaking “Crack-Crack! Crackity Jones!” - crimson-faced and veins a-poppin’ from the strain - the entire audience had, collectively, dropped its jaw.

That was 1989. Black Francis, Joey Santiago, David Lovering and Kim Deal had just released “Doolittle,” which quickly garnered a reputation as an essential album, and were well on their way to becoming an influential staple on alternative radio.

Now, 20 years later, the reunited Pixies, promoting their new career-retrospective box set, “Minotaur,” have gone on the road with a 20th-anniversary performance of “Doolittle” in its entirety along with a handful of related EP cuts and rarities. The tour closed its American leg with two sold-out shows Monday and Tuesday at the District’s gorgeous DAR Constitution Hall.

The Monday-night show was packed with an age-diverse but uniformly enthusiastic crowd - one well aware of the glowing reports that preceding shows had elicited and expecting to see something special. Special it was, too, not only for the joy of simply seeing the Pixies performing together again, but also because it looked as if Francis and company were genuinely enjoying themselves - mirroring the larger-than-life images of the band (gleefully hamming it up in individual head shots) projected on the screen behind them.

The flawless set list and stage production (and the brevity of most of the “Doolittle” tracks) made for an exhilarating, propulsive performance as the group rocketed through Sides A and B, peppering in a few period deep cuts for good measure. “Silver” was extra deep - never having been performed live until this tour - and a real treat to hear at a full boil.

The inevitable fan favorite, “Caribou,” (from the group’s 1987 debut EP, “Come on Pilgrim”) proved to be the highlight of the two-encore show, which served as a bookend to a love affair with this band that, for me and many others, started more than 20 years ago and is still going strong as ever.

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