It's been a decade since the last time the Pixies took pick to string in Arizona, or anywhere else. During this period, so-called alternative culture has become mainstream to the point that the very designation "alternative" becomes totally meaningless--to what is it an alternative? And should I be alarmed at my niece's Evanescence tattoo?
None of this has any bearing on the live performance by the Pixies on a balmy Monday evening in Mesa, save this: The tour should have been monikered "Cashin' In With the Pixies."
You see, "alternative" didn't use to be so lucrative. A decade after alternification, the Pixies have become a cash cow--a hefty heifer able to command $43 (with convenience fee) for a general admission, outdoor, unseated sellout show at an outdoor amphitheater. In fact, the tickets sold so fast that the promoters added another Pixies date in Phoenix in October.
So here they were, ready to go to work, in front of an odd set of metal light trees. And workmanlike they were. This was not some display of rekindled rock-and-roll passion. This was not the raw punkish energy that seeps from Surfer Rosa. This show was the Pixies' day job, only at night.
While the Pixies may not have been spirited, at least they were precise. "No. 13 Baby" had all the eerie poignancy it did on Doolittle. "I'm in a state," the Brando-esque Black Francis affectlessly sang, and he was. It's called "the state of torpor." "Crackity Jones" duplicated the guitar tones and weird shouts of the recorded version, if not the manic energy. And "Caribou" exemplified the Pixies' non sequitur brilliance, given its addictively hummable melody paired with odd lyrics about the fauna of the tundra. It's practically educational!
On they went, mechanically churning through a catalog so dense with amazing songs it's a wonder they're not all Top 40 hits, especially when you realize that the 4,000-strong audience knew every word. From the gracelessly aging scenester (such as your author) to the born-after-Surfer Rosa-was-released set, this was not a crowd of casual fans. But this speaks more to the Pixies' resonance with certain kinds of people than it does a particular fanaticism. Still, despite the love with which we showered them, the Pixies were just there to do their jobs. Nothing special about it. No words were spoken. It was just another weird day at the office.