The Pixies first reunited in 2004 after breaking up 11 years earlier, and bassist Paz Lenchantin has been part of the group for a decade now. In that time, they’ve put out four albums, as many as they did the first time they were a going concern. So the band had plenty of opportunities to iron out the kinks by the time it took the stage of the sold-out MGM Music Hall at Fenway Thursday night. And so they had, possibly too much; the Pixies were sturdy and dependable, and there were times when the performance didn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts.
It’s not that those parts weren’t present and accounted for. Black Francis still shrieked, Joey Santiago’s guitar still squalled, Lenchantin’s bass still offered a choppy plunk, and the bam-thwok of David Lovering’s drums still kept the chaos anchored. Almost all of it worked, from the simple guitar line of opener “Cecilia Ann” that played like a wired electric fanfare to a “Nimrod’s Son” that downshifted halfway through into an almost noir country swing. But the edges had been taken off of a few reliable freakouts like “Debaser,” while “Here Comes Your Man” lost its interred twistedness, and new songs like “Thunder and Lightning” were practically respectable at their very cores.
But even the less interesting strummy-acoustic alt-rock material had Francis’s vocal delivery to contend with. He was subtly feral even at his most outwardly placid, and on a ripper like “Planet of Sound” he came across like a man who hadn’t slept in weeks and had only just stopped being upset about it. He kept “Cactus” from turning into a simple blues-rock chug and helped “Tame” move and snarl. And the noise that came out of Santiago’s guitar — the strangled twitches of “Vamos,” the deranged surf rock of “Head On” — was equally bent while never failing to have shape and form. One song from the end, the band nailed the balance on “Where Is My Mind?,” nerve-wracking, dynamic, and (thanks to Lenchantin’s background “ooohs”) ghostly. It was what the Pixies were meant to be, at long last.
With its two opening acts, the Pixies brought three generations of alternative and indie rock onto the stage. Bully recalled the buzz-and-shout ‘90s, like a less snarky Veruca Salt, but while they were solid enough, the songs didn’t have quite the melodic invention or inertia to withstand the lack of additional coloration.
The interlocked, multidimensional guitars of Franz Ferdinand, on the other hand, provided an instant contrast. Itchy, energized, and rhythmic, and with exactly the right amount of preening from frontman Alex Kapranos — who was Bryan Ferry as Wilko Johnson — the band was strong enough even when keyboardist Julian Corrie wasn’t adding a third guitar to the mix like it was a live wire. New drummer Audrey Tait, meanwhile, played songs like “Take Me Out,” “Michael,” and “The Fallen” like she was hungry to show why she got the gig.
With Franz Ferdinand and Bully
At MGM Music Hall at Fenway, Thursday
Marc Hirsh can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.