There’s no mistaking the blunt-force melody of the Pixies, as singular a sound as ever committed in seven decades of rock ’n’ roll.
Formed in Boston by college pals in the waning ’80s, the band, originally consisting of Black Francis, aka Frank Black (pseudonyms of singer/guitarist Charles Thompson); guitarist Joey Santiago; bassist/vocalist Kim Deal; and drummer David Lovering, the foursome hooked anti-pop idiosyncrasy around limber reverb and distortion to escape teeth first from a cultural big bang that would spit out fresh worlds of alternative rock, hip-hop, metal, No Depression country music, and electronica.
Maybe the Pixies didn’t reinvent fire, but they certainly found new ways to burn across four exceptional full-lengths (no strings being pulled on the vanguard “Come On Pilgrim” EP) that inspired a subsequent legion of artists. Sadly, the center couldn’t hold, and the band broke up in 1993 with members fending off calls for a reunion amid other pursuits.
David Lovering, who post-Pixies continued to drum off and on with Frank Black and Santiago (in the Martinis) as well as for Cracker and various others, found a second life in the realm of magic and illusion, reinventing himself as a scientific phenomenalist who combined a background in electrical engineering with performance art and comedy.
“With the Pixies, I’m behind a drum set and I’m behind three people, and I’ve never had a problem with that,” Lovering said.
“My first magic show was just myself and 10 people — and I could’ve wrung my T-shirt out and filled a Dixie cup with the sweat because it was nerve-wracking. But magic has been wonderful because it builds confidence. The years that I’ve done it, you’re dealing one on one with people, and it just changes you. I could do public speaking now at a whim — it’s just the easiest thing in the world — and it’s all because of magic. I’m very grateful to it.”
In 2004, the Pixies announced their return with a tour culminating in a 20-song set at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival in Indio, California, that mined cuts from the four seminal albums “Surfer Rosa” (1988), “Doolittle” (1989), “Bossanova” (1990) and “Trompe Le Monde” (1991).
“I think when we got back together then in 2004, there was a lot of discussion of the way this was going to be for one tour, this and that, and it kept going — and it kept going. We had just been going on our old laurels,” Lovering said 19 years after the Pixies reformed.
“We’d been playing the old material for seven years, and it got us thinking. I think the epiphany in 2011 was, ‘Wow, we can’t do this anymore. We have to do something new.’ And that’s how ‘Indie Cindy’ came about.”
Initially released as a series of EPs, “Indie Cindy” resurrected the Pixies as creators, this time without Deal, to prove themselves amid an alt-rock landscape they’d pioneered in another century.
“People talk of pressure,and I think that we had some internal pressure just thinking about it — you’re thinking, ‘Oh, jeez, this album has to be as good as the last one we did!’ So, there was that,” Lovering said. “But there was no formulation. I’m not saying we didn’t put our best forward, but there wasn’t anything to upstage it. There wasn’t a conscious effort to make it better than what we had or to go back and top that. It was just what we were doing at that point.”
The band recalibrated in 2016 with the album “Head Carrier” (so named for decapitated martyr St. Denis), adding soon-to-be-permanent bassist Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle, Silver Jews, Jenny Lewis) as well as producer Tom Dalgety into the mix.
“Paz is a fantastic player, she’s a great musician, just a great person overall — wonderful to be around,” Lovering said. “She’s so good. She makes me step up my game and play better because I don’t want to be embarrassed. It was a nice breath of something new, and I think we were jokingly calling it ‘Pixies Version 2.0’ or something like that, but it’s been fantastic. She’s definitely given everyone — because she is younger — a spark.”
“Beneath The Eyrie” followed in 2019, along with what was supposed to be a globe-spanning tour. But COVID-19 and the ensuing pandemic sent the Pixies home, grounded but not necessarily uncertain. For Lovering, the unexpected break provided an opportunity for carpal tunnel surgery on both hands, which in addition to rejuvenating his drumming also provided enhanced dexterity for the magician’s ever-improving card tricks and sleight of hand.
“Doggerel,” the Pixies’ latest effort, could be their strongest post-reunion album to date. Realized through a combination of quarantine tracking and sessions at Vermont’s Guilford Sound, “Doggerel” is this incarnation at their most mature and fluid. Santiago has called the record “Doolittle Senior,” though tracks like “Nomatterday,” “Vault of Heaven,” “Haunted House” and the Leonard Cohen-dipped title track evoke classic Pixies mythology without recycling. This isn’t nostalgia; it’s experience.
“We all played very, very well on (‘Doggerel’). I think that’s Joey’s comment, why it was like ‘Doolittle.’ And I think that the song content that Charles came up with is exceptional. I think that “Doggerel” stands out (as) different than all the albums from after the reformation,” Lovering said. “We’re getting older. Not all music that we’re going to do is going to be heralded back to what we’ve done in the past, but it’s where we are in our lives. We’re better musicians, and I think that showed, especially with a producer (Tom Dalgety), who now is working with us for a third album, who knows us.”
As the Pixies prepare for their latest tour, Lovering is excited to share “Doggerel,” but equally energized by the challenge of playing no set list shows that will pull from every pocket of the band’s catalog.
“I think we’ve perfected it,” Lovering said of the no set list approach. “We call it our schtick because we know what the first song is and our soundman knows what the first song is and our lighting director knows what the first song is. After that, it’s all just by Charles and us with hand signals or him talking to a microphone that we only hear. We’re able to coordinate the show and work it and go through songs, and I must admit it’s fun. You don’t know when the set’s going to end!”
But Lovering’s true joy comes from seeing the band’s unfolding legacy reflected in the new (and growing) generation of Pixies fans.
“Back in 2004 when we played Coachella, it was a sea of kids that weren’t even born, probably, when we were originally a band — but they knew all the words,” Lovering said with a laugh.
“When I look at our audience before the doors open, it’s a sea of kids that are 15, 16, 17, 18, and going up from there. And they’re waiting to get in for general admission to get in that front row! To see a whole front row with kids in there, that know all the words to the new material — and people my age are in the back waiting for all the old stuff, it’s something else to see. That’s our audience now, and I feel very fortunate as a band to have it. I feel like we’re the Grateful Dead of alternative rock.”
BeachLife Festival w/The Pixies
WHEN: Noon Friday, May 5; and 11 a.m. Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7
WHERE: Redondo Beach, 239 N. Harbor Drive, Redondo Beach
COST: Tickets start at $179
INFO: beachlifefestival.com for the complete lineup