Pixies, Cults
DPAC, Durham
Friday, Jan. 31

At 9:15 on Friday night, The Pixies took the stage at DPAC and proceeded to play what seemed like their entire back catalog. There was hardly a break between songs, with little room for banter as the band charged through a set crowded with Gen X-and-sometimes-Y sing-alongs such as “Here Comes Your Man,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven” and “Where is My Mind?” While it took champion-level stamina on the band’s part to play a nonstop, high-energy set for the better part of two hours, the evening took on a surreal, disorienting quality as the partially reunited Pixies (bassist Kim Deal bowed out last year) piled on hit after hit. It started to feel less like Death to The Pixies and more like death by The Pixies.

There were plenty of songs they nailed—”Gouge Away,” “Cactus,” “La La Love You” and “Caribou”—and the notably taciturn bandleader Black Francis looked genuinely happy after both the set and the encore. He smiled and waved. But like the strange afterlife that bands in perpetual reunion seem to inhabit, it was an imperfect affair, with the absurdly crowded set punctuated with flashes of brilliance and human jukebox moments alike.

As Jeff Klingman wrote in this week’s issue of the INDY, The Pixies’ DPAC show fell within an expanding ecosystem of reunions by influential bands such as Outkast and Neutral Milk Hotel, who also stoked nostalgia in the Triangle this weekend. And while I share Klingman’s trepidation, considering The Pixies’ near-endless reunion purgatory (which started in 2004, really) and their rapid turnover of touring bassists following Deal’s departure, I—like many other 30-somethings—wanted to believe. After all, this is a band that I loved uncritically in my teen years, as one tends to do with music discovered at that age.

But The Pixies were already well past their heyday when I first picked up Doolittle in 1999, and I’m willing to bet that plenty of other 32-year-olds at DPAC last Friday would tell a similar tale if pressed. While they’ve always felt like my music, they were already influential and highly regarded by the time they hooked me, their legacy predetermined at my late arrival. And 15 more years have passed from that moment, shifting the band further into the rock legends pantheon.

I think that’s where much of my discomfort stemmed from: This stage show was pure arena rock. A two-story wall of orange strobes transformed “Isla de Encanta” into something ludicrous, unnecessarily macho and unintentionally hilarious. Throughout, the absence of any sort of banter caused growing unease. I couldn’t tell whether the band had eschewed conversation so they could squeeze in as many songs as possible or—as Klingman implied—showed up just for the paycheck.

I have no idea which is true, but I know that the night, from the good moments to the unfortunate ones, was defined by dissonance—the musical kind on which The Pixies made their name and the cognitive kind that this sort of time-capsule concert can inspire. The Pixies were always a band of imperfect elements coming together to form a striking, infectious whole, so the net effect worked beautifully. There’s something bizarre about going full-bore nostalgic, and maybe the disorientation and overstimulation came from the band giving the audience exactly what it wanted: all the hits.