Watching the Pixies in Boston, the town that first made them a seminal force in alternative rock back in the mid 1980s, must be the most memorable place to see them live.
At the Orpheum Theatre, feet planted in front of a sold-out crowd Saturday night, Black Francis (variously known as Frank Black and Charles Thompson IV) and gang never waxed nostalgic about their hometown roots. Or anything else, for that matter. True to that Pixies mystique, the quartet kept quiet and let the songs fill the room with a glorious cacophony that teetered from savage to serene.
The rapturous applause was different from the kind you typically hear at a concert. It was not out of obligation or recognition, but rather out of respect and deep gratitude. There was a palpable sense that the audience was glad they could see the Pixies in concert again. They disbanded in 1993, reunited in 2004, and have played shows together on and off ever since.
Kim Deal, the group’s original bassist, left the lineup last year, setting off a personnel shakeup that saw Kim Shattuck unceremoniously canned after a few months, followed by Paz Lenchantin taking the reins. She played her role, both on bass and in persona, accordingly: Lenchantin hung back, adding vocals where necessary, but otherwise stayed out of Black’s way.
Still, Deal was missed, if not solely for her playing, then at least for the way she could leaven the mood at a Pixies show. She was usually the chatty one, bantering with the audience while her bandmates looked on.
Save for “Debaser” and “Gigantic,” both missing, the set list was designed for both casual and diehard fans: Favorites (“Wave of Mutilation,” “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” “Where Is My Mind?”) ricocheted off deeper cuts (“Motorway to Roswell,” “Brick Is Red”) and newer material (including the creepy, crawling “Magdalena”) from the band’s two recent EPs.
They sounded terrific, in control and in tune with one another. Francis’s vocal tics and shrieks were intact, Joey Santiago’s guitar lines shimmered with a sinister beauty, and the rolling thunder of David Lovering’s drums kept both the tempo and your heartbeat racing.
But they also occasionally looked removed from the action, as if they weren’t even aware of the wall of sound surrounding them and maybe the crowd was having more fun than the performers. There was a restraint, particularly from Francis, that kept you at bay. That might have been the point, but at times it made for a performance that was rather perfunctory instead of transcendent.
By the end of the show, they seemed to have loosened their grip a bit. Lenchantin visibly smiled during “Here Comes Your Man,” the evening’s massive singalong that rippled across the orchestra seats to the ones up in the balconies. The Pixies had come home.