Pixies played a fine set at the Bayou Music Center in Houston on Thursday, but that’s immaterial.
Because a band like Pixies, a band that has served as a beacon for the angry, the confused, and the bored since 1986, a band that encapsulated a generation just starting to get wise to the vicissitudes of the American Dream, doesn’t have to play a good show…not anymore.
Pixies intrinsically rock. Even with their bellies bloated and hair receded by the unforgiving witch that is middle age. Without their guitars and the stage lights, the band might as well have been shuffling off a Sugar Land backyard BBQ, but it only took a few crunching, gravelly chords from opening songs “Bone Machine” and “Wave of Mutilation” to remind us of their rock legacy and awaken the tenderhearted nostalgia of the audience who suddenly found itself middle-aged and drunk among bespectacled, teenage know-better-thans.
Such grandeur explains the show’s terseness. There were no “Hello Houston!” cries, no kudos to their opening act, or any other idle chatter: just the perfunctory business of grinding out as many hits as a band could jam into 90 minutes (which is 33, as it turns out). Joey Santiago and Black Francis churned through songs, feet rooted in their relative slots on the stage, while touring bassist Paz Lenchantin (who replaced the short-lived Kim Shattuck, who in turn replaced the venerable Kim Deal) bobbled and smiled like an eager kid sister, and affable David Lovering drummed through Pixies classics with warm alacrity.
These are no amateurs — they know how to give a breathless, nostalgic crowd who paid way too much for tickets what they want. Old favorites like “Something Against You” and “Mr. Grieves” gave way to later Trompe le Monde tracks like “Subbacultcha” and “The Sad Punk,” only to round back to moody tunes like “Caribou” or blockbusters like “Where is My Mind?” All songs were expertly packaged and delivered for maximum wistfulness, and not a moment was spared. Once the emotional cash register rang up the transaction, we were on to the next song.
Pixies were at their best when they were at their harshest. From the harmonic yelling of “River Euphrates” to the angry riptide of “Crackity Jones,” the band effortlessly exhibited the enduring power of punk. In a shrewd move to galvanize Houston’s demographic, they unloaded a raging version of “Isla de Encanta,” culminating in a clamor of fists pounding the air while shouting the refrain, “Me voy! Me voy! Me voy!” (Though the crowd most certainly did not “voy,” so to speak.)
No, Pixies don’t have to play a good show anymore, because they trigger something inside their fans with only the gentlest breezes of their music. It takes them unironically back to the tape deck, back to lonely rec rooms cloistered on faraway cul de sacs or wild dormitory parties from times long before they started on the decidedly un-punk paths of adulthood. Pixies are rare — legendary even — because they ignited a sense of meaning in a generation of young Americans (to the envy of the generations that followed), and with that came relief. Because Pixies mean something, it’s all right if our lives more or less don’t, because we’re here at their show.
So when Lovering finished the long night with his sonorous, adorable rendition of Doolittle‘s “La La Love You,” the crowd cheered and sang with what could only be described as yearning. Not for love, and not for music, not for Pixies, but for the ephemeral, now lost moment when we felt our lives had meaning.