Pixies Prevail In Slow Touring Season
Britney Spears, Lenny Kravitz and Christina Aguilera have scrapped tours. Lollapalooza crashed and burned. The U.S. touring market has been in dire straits all summer. But a savior showed up in the veBritney Spears, Lenny Kravitz and Christina Aguilera have scrapped tours. Lollapalooza crashed and burned. The U.S. touring market has been in dire straits all summer. But a savior showed up in the very unlikely form of a band that hasn't hit the road or released a new studio album since 1992: the Pixies.
Even though the North American tour doesn't start until this weekend, the reunited act has quietly sold out venues ranging from clubs to arenas, everywhere from Saskatchewan to Chicago. The quartet is already eyeing more dates next year and may even record a new studio album. But you would barely discern the enormity of these feats from talking to vocalist/guitarist Frank Black.
"I'm very pleased," he says matter-of-factly. "Very happy. We're soaking it all up. We're just kind of observing this experience that's happening."
Black and his bandmates may be exceedingly modest, but fans certainly have not been shy about gobbling up tickets for the Pixies' first major road trip in 12 years. The 50-plus-date trek kicks off Sept. 4 in Bend, Ore., and finishes with an unprecedented six-night run at New York's Hammerstein Ballroom in mid-December that is already sold out. Tickets range from $30 to $45 in most markets.
"It's a wonderful validation of quality that wasn't recognized when the band was [previously] active," says Marc Geiger, the Pixies' longtime booking agent at William Morris. "This is a summer-doldrums concert season, and they are a shining star."
The band eased back into live performance with a short, instantly sold-out April warm-up tour of small markets, culminating in a rapturously received appearance at California's Coachella Festival in May. The subsequent summer European festival/headlining tour was also a huge box-office draw. It included a host of London shows that sold out in minutes.
"I prefer slightly smaller audiences," Black admits. "Playing to 50,000 people is interesting, but after about 10,000 people they all just kind of fade into some other visual field."
To accommodate Black's preference as well as fan demand, the Pixies are playing a handful of multiple-night stands at medium-sized venues like Chicago's 4,500-capacity Aragon Ballroom.
"I'd be pulling your leg if I said we knew we would sell 18,000 tickets here," Jam Productions VP of concerts Andy Cirzan says of the Aragon's four sold-out November shows (a fifth is due to be added).
"I think it confirms what a lot of music fans figured out for themselves-they are the architects of what we'd call contemporary pop music."
Because the Pixies have no new album to market, promoters targeted "educated music consumers" in their presale campaigns, Cirzan says. "We're not buying spots on pop radio or anything like that. There's a lot of print and street promotion-everything from [advertising at] used record stores to [posting fliers in] hip areas in urban centers."
Black says set lists for the fall shows will vary each night and will draw from a pool of about 40 songs. That roster represents "more or less what we think the audience wants to hear, maybe with a little bit of what we wanted to play."
Immediately after most concerts, fans will be able to purchase a limited run of soundboard-sourced recordings via DiscLive. "The after-market value is amazing," Geiger says, noting that the first reunion show in Minneapolis is selling for $100 on eBay. Shows promoted by Clear Channel Entertainment will not participate, because the company offers live recordings through its proprietary Instant Live series.
With box-office business booming, Geiger says he is already cooking up a summer package next year with other A-list rock acts. Black says with a chuckle, "I suppose we might try to nail something down for next year. We're not real good with the whole game-plan thing."
Of greater interest to fans is the spectre of a new Pixies studio album, but Black insists the band is in no hurry. He says he's comforted the Pixies are not under contract to a record label, and therefore are free to explore various opportunities for releasing new music.
The Pixies previously recorded for 4AD, which was distributed through Warner Bros. in the United States.
"I'm not saying we won't record, but I don't know if making an LP for a record company is the way to go, [considering] the way things are right now," Black says. "We've talked about that heavily. What can we do to keep recording and making music but not make an album, and see what opportunities come our way? It takes the pressure off of us to make our 'next grand statement' to the world."
Indeed, Black says there is no fundamental obstacle to hitting the studio other than "laziness. Again, I've got to write a bunch of songs and [bassist] Kim [Deal] has to write a few songs. We talk about it right now, but it's just cheap talk, because there aren't any songs."
For now, the group is unveiling some new recordings in dribs and drabs. A new song, "Bam Thwok," was made available exclusively via the iTunes Music Store. As previously reported, a cover of Warren Zevon's "Ain't That Pretty at All" will appear on the tribute "Enjoy Every Sandwich," due Oct. 19 via Artemis.
"It was good to record again," Black says. "It's always a little unusual doing someone else's song, because you're never quite sure if you're pulling it off. Our version came out good. It's a little more Stones-y and a little more punk-y, I suppose, than the original. The original is also kind of brash."
The idea to cover the tune was generated by Zevon's son, Jordan. "The night of the Grammys, there was an Artemis Records party at McCabe's Guitar Shop in Santa Monica," Black recalls. "The Pixies all went down there. We got to be the cool post-punk band hanging out with the former Eagles and Jackson Browne. We enjoyed ourselves. It was a very nice party. We felt important and appreciated."
"But then we went to some slick-o party put on by our agency's office in Hollywood, with thumping music and young, beautiful people," he continues. "We were just like these scruffs who stood in the corner gawking at everyone else. Nobody noticed us. They probably thought we were there to clean the bathroom [laughs]."
The band was also approached to make a video for the cut, but begged out of what Black says would have been an uncomfortable arrangement. "We had an offer to do a video, paid for by a combination of the record company and/or MTV," he says. "The video was to be done in New York and directed by MTV. Fortunately, it came at a logistically impossible time. We just went, 'No, we can't, sorry.' I haven't made a video in a long time, but I can't imagine making a video for a network that then plays it."