OK, the Pixies are back and they’ve brought the marketing with them. This self-titled DVD features a live show, videos and a documentary. I’ll start with the live stuff.
Watching these early live performances after seeing them for myself at Coachella highlighted just how hard it is to fake talent. They didn’t sound like anything else on the planet back then and the music doesn’t seem at all dated now. The only difference is that the man with the pipes went from looking like Mike Nelson from MST3K to Matt Pinfield in just under 15 years.
To say they looked comfortable onstage then or now would be a hefty claim. Frank Black always has a distant look to him, and while there was less shoe-gazing at this weekend’s gig, it was still just the hits played live… but I’ll take it however I can get it. Kim Deal is fun to watch; she has a tendency to just start whipping her head around like she’s a slave to the groove or she’s undergoing a tragic seizure. The London show on the DVD closes with a fun cover of “Wild Honey Pie” that bears little resemblance to the original but is the sort of screaming mess the Beatles might have made in 1988.
The few music videos the group made are presented in full, and quite frankly they aren’t much to look at. Very few artists apart from perhaps Bjork or Aphex Twin begin making albums with a clear and interesting visual concept of their music; others get lucky and stumble on a Stanley Donwood or a Chris Cunningham. Perhaps they just lacked the funding or enthusiasm, but the clip for “Velouria” is just the four of them running in slow motion down a hill of craggy rocks. It ain’t compelling. The travelogue video from on the road is equally uninspired, but so what? They put the images in their lyrics so I don’t fault them one bit. The “Debaser” video – made recently it appears – is engaging in that it’s suitably abstract. To be honest, though, I doubt the dog in the video is from Andalusia. I’m on to you, dog, and you can’t slice the truth from these eyeballs.
One of the DVD’s main selling points is “Gouge,” a documentary made for the BBC that notes that while American radio sucked even before Clear Channel, the British press wouldn’t let listeners sleep on the most exciting band since Microwave. A close comparison could be made between the first Sex Pistols show and the first time Black and the gang played London. Fewer people saw the Sex Pistols but both were remarkable in the kind of inspiration it lent to lucky attendees – for instance, Johnny Greenwood, Thom Yorke, Graham Coxon and half of Brit pop royalty. Seeing that, it struck me that “Song No. 2” by Blur could easily be a throwaway from Doolittle and that you can pretty much split Pablo Honey in half between Surfer Rosa and the Stone Roses. In other words, they were profoundly influential, and if nothing else, I hope this comeback gets them the credit and cash they’re due. In an interview, David Bowie remarks that American music in the ’80s was “basically Sonic Youth and the Pixies,” which is true. On the other hand, it’s difficult to trace back the reference points of the Pixies so the documentary has a tendency to be a tease. Really, though, does it matter why they wrote such biblical lyrics or had such odd phrasing? Not especially. The meaning is up to me and me alone, even when you’re the one listening. Oh, also, Bono embarrasses himself once again with some vacuous ass-kissing. Whoever told him not to wear his trademark sunglasses made a mistake; that guy should hide behind his shades for the same reason cops grow mustaches.
My other random thought is that perhaps it’s more rewarding to have British artists talk about the Pixies. A charting of their influence on American music would lead from the genius of Kurt Cobain to the mediocrity of a thousand grunge bands that adopted the sparse lead, subdued verse and loud chorus formula for success. Then you get stuck thinking about nu-metal and you throw up in your mouth and show your diary to a stranger.
So, short of being obsessed, will you watch this repeatedly? I doubt it, but it’s a fun watch on a lazy day, and if you freeze frame Thom Yorke talking about how the Pixies are more violent than the goth scene, it actually looks like he’s being poisoned… and that’s worth the price for me.