Pixies, one the most influential and pioneering bands still operating today, are returning to Manchester’s Castlefield Bowl on 5 July, supported by Manchester live favourites The Slow Readers Club and Dutch alt-pop trio Klangstof.
Key figures of the late 80s alt/rock movement, Pixies blazed the trail for everyone from Pearl Jam to Nirvana to Radiohead. Recorded in just 10 days at the end of 1987, the band’s ferocious debut album Surfa Rosa introduced the world to their iconic ‘loudquietloud’ sound, with Kim Deal’s basslines serving as the cool counterpoint to Black Francis and Joey Santiago’s flesh-searing guitar onslaught. Tracks like ‘Where Is My Mind’ and ‘Gigantic’ presented a meeting place for insanity and ecstasy, their sheer weirdness (and it’s hard, in 2022, to appreciate just how weird they sounded in 1988) changing the face of alternative music in one swoop. Writing on the album’s 30th anniversary in 2018, NME’s Mark Beaumont recalled:
“All I heard was an unhinged flamenco punk maniac barking and yelping over some of the most beautifully brutal and cruelly melodic songs I’d ever heard. Surfer Rosa blew my tiny teenage mind.”
Just a year later, Doolittle made a mockery of the idea of the ‘difficult second album’. No less than David Bowie cited it as “the most compelling music outside of Sonic Youth made in the entire 80s”. Although imbued with the same perverse humour and oddball experimentalism found on Surfer Rosa, Doolittle was a change of pace, self-consciously sleeker and more accessible than its predecessor, with enough pop melodicism to secure mainstream appeal. Take the jaunty ‘Here Comes Your Man’ – a perfectly formed pop song by any other name, which led to their breakthrough. As with Surfa Rosa, though, violence is never far away; tracks like ‘Mr. Grieves’, ‘There Goes My Gun’ and ‘Dead’ each hold their own brutal thrills, with Joey Santiago’s simple but oh-so-effective guitar lines emerging as the band’s not-so-secret weapon.
The best songs on the record split the difference between Pixies’ newfound pop sensibility and their proclivity towards nihilism, the case in point being ‘Debaser’, which remains a catalyst for chaos at Pixies’ live shows, its anthemic, side-swiping chorus sounding as sensational today as it did three decades ago.
Three more great albums followed before Pixies disbanded in 1993. 11 years later, they launched their reunion tour, playing to sell-out crowds across the globe for 15 years, a far longer period of time than they were a band originally. But writing, recording, and releasing new music was something that the band had been wanting to do for a long time, so they secretly booked studio time in Wales for the Autumn of 2012. Six days into the recording, bassist Kim Deal decided to leave the band; Black Francis, Joey Santiago and David Lovering made the decision to carry on, finishing and releasing Pixies’ first studio album in more than two decades, 2014’s Indie Cindy.
Also wanting to play live, the three began working with a number of touring bassists, including former A Perfect Circle bassist, Paz Lenchantin who came out on the road with the band in 2014. Pixies welcomed her as Pixies’ permanent bassist in 2016, and since then, they’ve released two more studio albums: Head Carrier in 2016 and 2019’s critically acclaimed Beneath the Eyrie, recorded with producer Tom Dalgety.
Their first music of 2022 dropped in March – the single ‘Human Crime’. The song takes a nostalgic look back at a relationship gone by while presenting a wider message calling for human tenderness. “Went by your place,” Francis sings. “There was nobody there/ At the cocktail lounge/ Someone else was in your chair.” The track was released along with a music video directed by bassist Paz Lenchantin, filmed at the abandoned bunkers in San Pedro and Santa Monica’s Gold Diggers Bar in Los Angeles. “The storyline is loosely based on an ‘inside joke’ between Charles and I about going on tour,” Lenchantin explained in a statement. “How we go through a door from our reality state into the altered state of becoming and being a Pixie.”
In June, the band announced a brand new album, Doggerel, which is coming in September. It’s billed as “a mature yet visceral record of gruesome folk, ballroom pop and brutal rock, haunted by the ghosts of affairs and indulgences, driven wild by cosmic forces and envisioning digital afterlives where no God has provided one. And all the while, right there on the news, another distant storm approaches.” That menacing energy shines in the album’s new single ‘There’s A Moon On’, which fits into the space between prototype squalling Pixies guitars and heartland rock classicism.
Mirroring the dark arts of Pixies’ recorded output, watching the band live feels like watching something that’s somehow unmoored from reality, something that exists only in the present moment. The last time we caught them was at the Apollo just before lockdown, and the band’s iconic tracks sounded as thrillingly raw and vital as ever, simply refusing to age. Testament to that was the surprisingly eclectic mix of ages in the audience; it was plain to see that generation after generation of music fans can’t help but be sucked into the beautiful, perverse magic that is Pixies. We can’t wait to do just that all over again at Castlefield Bowl this summer.