He made that clear 20 years ago, when he famously broke up the band via fax, and he reiterated how few fucks he gives this past fall. Bassist Kim Deal had quit earlier in 2013, nine years into the group’s reunion, which should’ve been taken as a sign to close up shop once again. Instead, the band brought in Kim Shattuck, of L.A. pop-punks the Muffs, to replace her. As if swapping one bass-playing Kim for another didn’t make Black’s cynicism apparent enough, in November, only a few months into Shattuck’s tenure, he fired her—and since fax machines are old-fashioned, he did so by calling her manager. When pressed for a reason, Black’s response said everything about what he thinks of the act that made him famous: “This is a rock band,” he told Yahoo. “There’s been a shift in the lineup, big woop-dee-doo.”
Well, he’s right about one thing: A rock band is all the Pixies are now. Thing is, they used to be something more. It’s hard to remember, 10 years on, just how mind-blowing it was to see all four of them—Black, Deal, guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer Dave Lovering—together on the same stage again. It wasn’t just the hell-hath-frozen nature of their reformation. Thanks to testimonials from the likes of Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke, the band had, in absentia, grown from an upper-tier cult favorite into a group of near-mythic proportions. And the lineup did indeed matter. Back in 2004, they couldn’t have put a bass on just any woman named Kim—or, in the case of the current incarnation, A Perfect Circle’s Paz Lechantin—and called it the Pixies. People wouldn’t have stood for it.
Now, it’s easier to swallow. But that’s only because, after a decade of touring that’s produced barely any new music, the Pixies are no longer a myth. They’re just another name on a concert calendar.
There are two ways to do an indie-rock reunion: Tour for a limited time, collect a quick payday and get out (Pavement), or actually try and reinstate a career initially cut short by petty in-fighting (Dinosaur Jr.). Instead, the Pixies have chosen to languish in a purgatory usually reserved for the casino circuit, playing the same few dozen songs for years on end. Black has admitted to being bored of the material, yet in 10 years he’s only mustered the energy to record two half-assed EPs of new songs. Fans still care about the old stuff—the Schnitz is sold out, after all—but does anyone still care about the band? A decade ago, the appeal of seeing the Pixies was the relative miracle of witnessing “Where Is My Mind?” and “Gigantic” and “Wave of Mutilation” played by the four musicians who were on the records. Now it’s only nostalgia. You put $60 (plus fees) into the jukebox, and you expect to hear the songs you paid for. Who cares who’s performing them? Big woop-dee-doo.
Deal hasn’t publicly
stated why she left the band; the assumption is that it has to do with
her commitment to the Breeders, a group that, while also leaning heavily
on its back catalog, has at least managed to put out an album in the
last decade. Whatever the exact reason, the fact is she doesn’t need the
Pixies anymore. And until the remaining members care enough to prove
otherwise, neither does the rest of the world.
SEE IT: The Pixies play Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway, with Best Coast, on Wednesday, Feb. 19. 8 pm. Sold out. All ages.