I arrived at the venue just as Cymbals Eat Guitars began their set. Being unfamiliar with their music up until now, I was unsure what to expect, but the music buff in me nonetheless held them to a high standard. How could I not? See, The Pixies have always been a strange band. It’s difficult to gain a foothold on their music. Be it their uncanny song structures or their abstract lyrics, the result has always been at once minimalist, aggressive, and disorienting. Any act touring with a group uncanny as them, I thought, had better be something to behold live.
I wasn’t disappointed.
Blending the airy cacophony of ‘90s alternative rock, the projected angst of third-wave emo punk, and the controlled chaos of ‘80s new wave, CEG owned every moment of their stage time. Their music was colorful and hypnotic with keyboard accents and noodling guitar riffs, yet prone to bursts of energy much like a shaken soda bottle overflowing violent sweetness onto their audience.
And boy did they know how to make an exit. In a manic fit, a physical and sonic conniption, guitarist and vocalist Joseph D’Agostino found every distorted, squealing tone possible from abusing his instrument, holding the guitar by its strings and then raking them until snapping, moving as though in a trance, like a dancer performing some demonic ritual to his own manufactured atmosphere of noise. Breathtaking doesn’t begin to describe the scene.
The Pixies performance was nothing short of awe-inspiring. They began with well known singles such as “This Monkey’s Gone to Heaven” and “Wave of Mutilation” then moved into lesser-known tracks that left confused looks on the audience members’ faces. In fact, if The Pixies didn’t run through at least 80% of their whole discography, I would be shocked. Yet even these obscure songs, including “La La Love You” and a smattering of others even I had difficulty placing at times, we see the extent of the band’s prowess. Casual listeners may know the group for the Project Mayhem anthem “Where is My Mind?” yet their music covers so much more sonic ground than such grungy earworms. Ranging from ambient, to punky, to even doowop and surf rock, The Pixies are known for blending multiple styles and genres into something one could only describe as eclectic.
In fact, the only song noticeably missing was Kim Deal’s iconic “Gigantic,” a favorite of many fans including myself. This could be due in part to the unfortunate departure of Deal in 2013. Paz Lenchantin, formerly of Billy Corgan’s short-lived Zwan project, has since taken up the mantle as bassist. Though her bass skills and vocal chops are on par with Deal’s, it was perhaps an act of respect to leave the song off the set list.
With the exception of a few quips here or there, the band played hours worth of material without dialogue. This is a jarring contrast to many alternative bands who get so chatty with their audience that their half-unintelligible stage banter becomes nearly as entertaining as the music itself. However, this lack of dialogue between performer and crowd does not harm The Pixies performance. Instead, it adds to their mysteriousness, the aura of weirdness fans would expect, while also focusing the audience’s attention to the music, the craft instead of the creators, without human distraction.
There was no encore. Instead the band took a collected bow at the front of the stage and walked off. Immediately the area filled with a fog so thick one couldn’t see two feet ahead. The band returned without a word behind the thick, gray veil, and began playing their rollicking finally. And then it was over. Nobody chanted for more. We knew there was nothing to add. The piece was finished, exactly as it had been intended, and we had the privilege of being a part of it.