Oct. 29, The Palace Theater, 100 East Main St., Waterbury, (203) 346-2000, palacetheaterct.org
All of the commemorative re-issues have made it hard to forget that this fall marked the 20th anniversary of Nirvana's Nevermind. And any time people talk about Nirvana for long, a mention of the Pixies is bound to come up. That's because the Pixies, the scrappy Boston band that broke up in 1993, were the architects of that loud-quiet-loud sound, the extreme dynamic whiplash that so many '90s bands copied — including Nirvana.
But there was so much more to the Pixies than just that jarring volume-toggling. It wouldn't have amounted to much more than a gimmick if the songs weren't great. Frontman Black Francis was not your average rockstar. Round and bald, he sometimes came off like a mole person with anger-management issues, but his songs, inscrutable though they sometimes might have been, tapped into some in-grown generational rage. Tracks like "Debaser," "I Bleed," and "Wave of Mutilation" seemed to well up from a deep nerd reserve of angst. And guitarist Joey Santiago provided the perfect shrill metallic counterpoint to the songs.
Santiago spoke to the Advocate recently by phone from his home in Los Angeles. We talked about the Pixies' reunion in 2004 and the band's upcoming show in Waterbury, where the band will perform its 1989 album Doolittle. Santiago, it turns out, has ties to this region. He went to high school in the mid-'80s in Longmeadow, Mass., just on the other side of the state line. He says he was "a derelict" back then. Santiago met Black Francis when both were students at UMass in Amherst (one of the band's later songs pays homage to their college experience).
The tinny and dissonant guitar lines that punctuate Pixies songs were Santiago's specialty. The sound is part hip-cat wrong-note playing (think Tom Waits or Thelonius Monk) and part shy untutored guitarist doing a kind of surfer-savage routine. Santiago's playing was always minimal, leaving big gaps and holes for the phrases to ring out in. "I did rests on purpose," he says. "I was totally into that."
He's not your standard rock god either. Sometimes he almost looks like he's scared of his guitar. Which maybe he should be.
"I'm very self-conscious, and I'm not much of a showman," he says, adding that bassist Kim Deal, something of an indie-rock icon, "makes up for that."
The second life of the Pixies has been a productive one, even if the band has still managed to avoid recording or performing any new material. "We've got a good machine going," says Santiago.
When the revived band isn't playing in Europe, Asia, Australia, South America or the U.S., Santiago does soundtracks for TV and movies (he worked on the first season of "Weeds" and the comedy "Undeclared" — "I learned a new skill," he says.) Black Francis, whose non-Pixies stage name is Frank Black, continues to stay busy recording and touring as a solo artist. Kim Deal revived the Breeders, her side-project band, a few years ago, and drummer David Lovering still has a sideline as a magician.
Santiago doesn't rule out a record of new material from the Pixies, but he's not necessarily expecting one either. "If we do do it, we might be one of those bands that could pull off a good record," he says.
The key to the band's appeal has always been their fundamental weirdness.
"We come across as regular folks until you meet us," says Santiago.
• The band was formed in part by an ad seeking rhythm section members that liked both Husker Du and Peter, Paul and Mary.
• The Pixies went on tour as an opening act for U2 in 1992.
• Black Francis broke the band up in 1993 via fax.
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