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Thursday, March 30th, 2023  

Pixies on “Live In Brixton”

Joey Santiago and David Lovering discuss their 2004 reunion and beyond

Feb 28, 2022 Web Exclusive
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“I went into this room that I didn’t know existed in a Brixton Academy, saw the backstage area, and all the bands were there. The Blur guys? Yeah. Coldplay, people? Just everyone. Oh, you know, all the British bands were in there. And I just thought “whoops, I’m in the wrong room”. You know, and I just got out there,” Pixies guitarist Joey Santiago says on a video call from LA.

Even in the middle of their hyped and explosive reunion gigs, Pixies never quite got what the fuss was about. They don’t feel they should be at the party, even the ones being thrown in their honor as a legendary pillar of alternative rock.

Their position as well-known, unknowns is highlighted by drummer David Lovering’s own Coldplay story, “I was a magician at his [Coldplay front man Chris Martin’s] record release party. When the Pixies were broken up. I was a magician, and they did this release party and I was there doing magic walking around. He came to the show but didn’t recognise me. Funny. Funny.”

Santiago and Lovering are on the line reminiscing about Pixies epic four-night 2004 reunion stint at Brixton Academy. They are in good spirits, Santigo sits on the video call in a stunning white suit and top hat, and Lovering shares a magic trick (showing the skills from his “other” career).

It was the reunion no one ever thought would happen, the fraught break-up in 1993 is well documented, especially between frontman/guitarist Black Francis and bassist Kim Deal. But 11 years after the rift, all four original Pixies got back together for shows. It was a monumental moment in rock history, which is now the subject of a lavish, just released, Live In Brixton remastered boxset.

What changed? The catalyst for the reunion seems as unlikely as many aspects of Pixies, and one built on the warped humor that is key to the band’s output. Everything started with a sarcastic quip Francis made in an interview, joking the band play together all the time. A quip taken far too seriously.

“It just turned into a reality instead of like a rumor, you know?”, explains Santiago. “And then so he just, he just rolled with it, you know?”

Rehearsals soon started up in Deal’s studio, but even then it was not guaranteed we would get to see Pixies return, as Santiago explains, “[If it wasn’t working], we would have just hung it up.

We made an agreement that if it wasn’t good, and if it felt weird, we just shake hands and part ways like this isn’t gonna work, you know? Yeah, I didn’t want to go back to the misery we had at the end of our time. Back then. No way. I wasn’t going to do that ever again. That’s not worth any kind of money at all. No, I’d rather go home and I don’t know, deliver mail. You know, I’d rather just drive, anything else.”

While Santigo jokes that, of course, money was a motivation, it had to be worth upending their lives for, as he explains, “If I was going to get paid by pizzas, I don’t think I do it. Like the old days, we would be lucky to have a pizza and gas money in a van with just the four of us.”

“What the hell, I’m not going to leave my kids for a slice of pizza. There’s no way. But yeah, playing live was exciting. I wanted it. I never thought it was gonna be real. It was incredibly welcome for something that we had lost, loved and lost, you know, and, and the ball was rolling with all the stuff that made it all come together and everything like that. Yeah, but also I do love pizza.”

But it did work, clearly the money was on offer for a reunion of this magnitude, and soon enough the band were out on the road and at Brixton the four members looked like they were having the time of their lives. While the band had played Coachella, several US dates and some in Europe before heading to London, it was these performances that felt like the real “return”, the real “homecoming”, to the country that first embraced their loud-quiet dynamics and home of their label 4AD.

“We were very familiar with Brixton because we played there previously when our tours always came to London and it was very well and we always had fun time there and to now do a number of nights there was it was kind of ridiculous and kind of surreal,” says Lovering.

“And London’s where our label was from. So, we spent a lot of time there. And we played every venue there from the Mean Fiddler to Town and Country. It’s one of those places where we graduated venues, and we knew the reputation of those venues.”

During their initial six-year period (1986-1993), Pixies had been moderately successful, gained critical acclaim and sat comfortably as a popular but still ‘cult’ band. In the years, since, buoyed by endorsements from the likes of Kurt Cobain, Bono, Radiohead and David Bowie, they gained near mythical status as the band that forged a new kind of alt-rock sound. The end of the movie Fight Club brought the band to an even bigger popular audience in 1999.

With all this had grown a body of “new” fans that loved them as a band out of reach, possibly never being able to see them play live. I myself fall into this category, having been introduced to the band in 1994 on a cassette mix tape given to me by a teacher. The connection, and the love, was instant – this was my band. As a weird kid, always trying to find a place to fit in, this music felt like permission to be myself. It was noisy but pop, dark but funny, angry and angelic. I bought everything I could, and it meant everything.

“Starting at Coachella, we were doing a show and in that the audience was a lot of, you know, younger people there compared to when our original albums came out”, explains Lovering. “When we did “Where Is My Mind?” everybody knew the words, they all started singing. And I understood, wow, it’s just kinda translated to a different generation.”

This feeling was embodied by night after night of crowds at Brixton, which can be heard on the live recordings as the band entered the stage on the first night. The love, the energy, the relief at seeing them was something special. Such was the energy, there are tales of the balcony moving because of the momentum of energetic dancing from the crowd stood on it.

“I know in the moment, we had to document it, but damn, I didn’t know as far as the extent of the response,” says Santiago. At the time there was a mobile recording studio in a van, professionally capturing the shows, with a limited number available on CD directly after each show. The new boxset releases them for the first time since the night of performance.

Many people attended several nights, not knowing what to expect, except maybe the unexpected. The opening track on night one was Neil Young cover “Winterlong” a b-side favourite of band completists. At this point, as Lovering points out, they had “75 songs” to choose from and nothing was off the table.

Regardless, the band did and do understand the value of hits, “We have to play certain songs I mean, that’s a given those are just like always on the list because you know, we don’t want people asking for refunds,” suggests Lovering.

Then, as they do now, they had no setlist (other than the opening track), instead feeding off the crowd and what the show demands. The one show they did have a setlist for was Coachella, jokingly explained by Santiago gesticulating the universal sign for a knock-out combo.

“I made it. Did you see it? Um, I went bam. You know, jab, and then kiss kiss. Jab. Want to knock out? That was the set list. Literally. That’s what we wrote down”, he says with a swift kiss of his knuckles.

“But, I fucked up because I didn’t do the Kiss Kiss. And I just went for the jab. And we had to start over.”

Joking aside, Pixies sets are all knock out blows from start to finish, as the Brixton recordings demonstrate. Everything lands from the obvious classics like “Debaser” and “Where Is My Mind?”, through album cuts like “La La Love You” and “Number 13 Baby”, through to the dark cover of “In Heaven (Lady In The Radiator Song)” from David Lynch’s Eraserhead, each choice fits in the scheme of the onslaught. This has only got more intuitive over time, the odd glance, a nod, is all it takes for the band to rip into a note perfect rendition.

Live In Brixton as a recording, flows with this brilliant unpredictability from a band which the term ‘greatest hits’ refers to the majority of their initial output.

At that point, Pixies were still playing the “game” a little, doing encores as part of the performance, something they have since dropped and something that Santiago is sceptical of. It’s all just so fake and predictable.

“Oh, why even bother, you know, you’re gonna get called back. You know you are?”, Santiago says with a questioning smirk. “And we used to do it, and we used to go, “Okay, we got to wait for them to like, really want us.” you know. And during that time that we were back there, you could have got, like, three more songs out of us.”

Now famed for the amount of tracks they cram into a set, even at the reunion, there was little time for chit chat, or theatrics, with Pixies it is all about the music. It speaks for everything, and the job is to give the crowd as much of it as possible.

Right now, we are talking 18 years after the reunion tour that could have been a short-but-sweet reminder of a legendary live band, but instead carried them for a decade, before laying down recordings again. Nothing until 2019’s Beneath the Eyrie felt like an extension of the flawless legacy up to 1993, but with new bassist Paz Lenchantin brought into the writing fold, it illustrates a band accepting what they are now and not worrying about the past. These reunion recordings captured the first explosive steps on the road to revitalizing Pixies, but what can we expect from the near future? More music?

“We already did it,” explains Santiago before slightly backtracking. “Are we allowed to say this? Usually, we’re secretive. But we already have something? We’ve already got something planned? Yeah.”

David mutters in reluctant agreement, but the cat is out of the bag. There appears to be new Pixies on the way. “Let me retrack”, adds Santiago. “The four of us got together in a room with microphones and a producer for three weeks.”

“But we could have just looked at the microphones, right?”

Since 2004, the band have continued to tap into the unique energy that can be heard on Live In Brixton, both live, and finally on recordings. Whatever comes next anyone who was swept up in the euphoria at Brixton, will be thankful that Pixies continues to be predictably vital on the live stage, knowing they can now relive the rebirth over again.

Live In Brixton is out now


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