Monday, 31 March 2014

Pixies pt. 2: the post-Doolittle years

Having been swept off my feet by the powerful seduction technique of ‘Doolittle’, I embarked on a true affaire de coeur with Pixies. Of course, as in life, I was rather shy, and entered into the relationship with some trepidation. I bought the previous two Pixies albums ‘Surfer Rosa’ and ‘Come On Pilgrim’ (conveniently compiled on a single CD), and learned them off by heart. When ‘Bossanova’ was released, I was there from day one, buying the vinyl LP with the limited edition lyrics book inside. I bought all their singles, put up posters on my bedroom wall and saw them in concert. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough.

It was a sad day when Pixies broke up (David Bowie once said the same thing, apparently[1]), but our relationship remained as strong as ever. That last album,1992’s ‘Trompe le Monde’, was easily their weakest work, yet still head and shoulders above pretty much everything else that came out that year, including all those grunge records they undoubtedly influenced[2].

Post-pixies, Black Francis became Frank Black and embarked upon a rather fluctuating solo career which failed to deliver on the promise of his Pixies days. He formed a new band, the Catholics, which featured Santiago on guitar, threw hard rock and country into the melting pot and garnered a little more acclaim (‘Dog In The Sand’ is actually the closest he got to a record of Pixies quality). Then he became Black Francis again and not only resurrected that terrifying scream, but also formed another band, Grand Duchy, with his wife, boasting a distinctly electronic edge.

Kim Deal, meanwhile fared better. During a Pixies hiatus after ‘Doolittle’, she formed the ‘supergroup’ The Breeders (with members of Throwing Muses, the Perfect Disaster and others).  After the split, this became her fulltime venture and the band’s second album ‘Last Splash’ remains one of the most revered records of the 90s.

And then of course there were the inevitable record company cash-ins: the best of album, the b-sides album, the unreleased demos album, the BBC sessions album, another best of album… Just keeping the legacy alive, eh?

Fast-forward to the summer of 2004, 12 years after Pixies broke up. After 8 years together (and two kids to the good), Mrs Robster and I finally decided to go legit and get married like grown-ups do. Well, in fairness, she had decided years before, it was me who had foolishly dragged his feet…

I had wondered whether I’d ever see the Pixies again. There had been rumours of a potential reunion for a number of years. And then…

“Legendary Pixies To Reunite For Tour” (, 9 Sep 2003)

Although many of us refused to hold our breath at the prospect, the news was finally confirmed: they were back! A four-night residency at Brixton Academy was announced. I promptly bought the tickets and prepared myself for the most exciting summer of my life: getting hitched and seeing Pixies once more.

Except, for ‘summer’ read ‘week’. When I checked the dates, there were but three days between each big occasion; the Mrs and I would be honeymooning in the tropics of central London. In hindsight, maybe I was a little selfish. While we hadn’t made any plans to go anywhere post-wedding, I jumped straight in and announced: “We’re going to see the Pixies!” with very little consultation. Not that Mrs Robster wasn’t a bit of a fan herself; she once told me she would love to be able to scream like Black Francis, which I thought was a pretty cool thing for her to say. But travelling to the smoke to see my favourite band was probably not her idea of blissful married life.

And while she tolerated my exhilaration and anticipation of the big day (the gig, not the wedding…), I tried hard to keep a lid on things, to keep things in perspective. Strangely, I was more successful at that on the night itself. I resisted the urge I had to race down to the mosh-pit and relive my long-past teenage years, choosing instead to admire from further back the still wondrous sight of the four Pixies playing my favourite songs. They still had it though, whatever ‘it’ was, and a new generation of Pixies fans, who hadn’t been fortunate to catch them first time round, were now seen throwing themselves about to those same songs I had some 14 years before.

In spite of the rather ironic name given to the 2004 reunion – ‘The Sell-Out Tour’ – Pixies never sold out. They remained fiercely independent and for the next five years, toured lots but refused to release any new material that wasn’t right up there with their best work – only a single original song (Bam Thwok) and a cover of a Warren Zevon track for a tribute album emerged. But then, in the summer of 2013, they ‘did a Bowie’. From nowhere, a brand new song, Bagboy, appeared on their website. Boasting the classic Pixies sound, it took everyone by surprise, not least because only a couple weeks before the band announced Kim Deal had quit and it was widely assumed that Pixies were no more. Since then, 11 more new songs have seen the light of day through a series of EPs (which Mrs Robster in particular rates rather highly), and all 12 new songs will be released as the album ‘Indie Cindy’ next month. So it seems that, for the time being at least (and in spite of sacking their new bass player after just a few weeks), Pixies are here to stay. Hurrah!

My adoration of Pixies refuses to diminish. Other bands have come and gone, but Pixies remain a big part of my mind and soul, with my heart beating quietLOUDquiet and occasionally emitting a piercing caterwaul over a discordant guitar and a breathy backing vocal.


[1] "I felt very depressed the day I heard about the Pixies split.  What a waste... I could see them becoming huge." – David Bowie. Our Supreme Lord David covered the Pixies track Cactus on his ‘Heathen’ album in 2000.
[2] "I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies. I have to admit it. When I heard the Pixies for the first time, I connected with that band so heavily I should have been in that band - or at least in a Pixies cover band. We used their sense of dynamics, being soft and quiet and then loud and hard." - Kurt Cobain discussing Smells Like Teen Spirit, Rolling Stone, Jan 1994


  1. I've had a very strange relationship with The Pixies. I always loved the singles. Always managed to add them to any compilation CD or Tape down through the years but never listened to an album by The Pixies. I don't even have an excuse why!!! I must have always had something else to buy while The Pixies waited in the queue!! Think that queue needs to be sorted out. So much music, so little time!!
    Franz Ferdinand were great last week. I would never consider myself a fan and I was stuck for a present for my brother over the christmas so I said ahh, sure them tickets will do!! Think we were both pleasantly surprised how good they were. I haven't seen a crowd in that particular venue go as mad since Shane MacGowan and The Popes in the 90s!!! Next stop The Strypes in a week or so!! Great little young band from Cavan!!

    1. I love the Strypes, but find it so hard to believe how a band so obscenely young can make such incredibly authentic 60s rhythm 'n' blues. It's like they're channeling the spirits of the Small Faces and the Animals. Next time they're in this neck of the woods I'll be there (I hope!)

  2. Oh and by the way Bagboy is a great song. Posted those EPs a while back.

  3. special edition of new album for record store day, april 19th, might be tempted...???