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Pixies fans, take heed!

March 28, 2014

I hope somebody else listens to the new Pixies, because I feel like I’m the only one doing so right now.

A co-worker of mine, who had seen Pixies in their elder Gods prime circa 1989, had just been talking to me about a concert I’d attended at Massey Hall the previous night, where they’d kicked off the first official night of their brand new tour with just-minted-as-bandmate Paz Lenchantin. Paz couldn’t have done a better or more graceful job of stepping into the shoes of her bass player/singer predecessors: founding member Kim Deal, and her recently-apparently-fired replacement Kim Shattuck.

On top of handling all that embarrassing non-important personal messiness with aplomb and discretion, Paz sang harmonies well and played bass pedal melodies with her feet on top of her 4-stringed axe (in a recent acoustic Pixies appearance for NPR’s All Songs Considered show, she even picked up her primary instrument of violin to add to the mix). Their inaugural show together went off without a hitch, and was generally well-liked by the folks in attendance I saw around me who were also watching intently; that is to say, all but for a certain totally wasted guy in the front row, who was yelling off-colour remarks and making disapproving gestures with his hands in Lanchantin’s direction almost the entire night except for a good 25-minute chunk in the middle where he left to get even more intoxicated and then came back to hurl further abuse at her.

“Man,” my co-worker wistfully ruminated to me. “Those old days were amazing. Kim was such a huge part of it all. That new song they put out (the catchy ‘Blue Eyed Hexe’) sounds just like bad AC/DC”. I hadn’t even countenanced such a thought, because it sounded like it was some pretty cool rock’n’roll to me. Yeah, sure, lead singer Black Francis’ voice is a lot different now, and so is his songwriting. Isn’t that what you’d expect after his many years on the road as a professional performer?

I don’t much keep up with the Pixies fan community these days, nor did I ever; actually, I’m kind of a recent convert. I only got into Surfer Rosa a few years ago, so, please don’t gang up on me for not knowing all the intimate details of their glorious rise, hiatus, and ugly fall. I just don’t subscribe to that narrative (which Rolling Stone all but tried to canonize with their shockingly snarky, mock-apologetic reprinting of Pixies’ new album announcement all over their pages — er, I guess, webpages? A print version of this publication still circulates, but I doubt anybody reads it except to skim its glossy photos over an extended lunch break at the magazine rack).

You see, ‘Bagboy’ was the new Pixies single that got my attention again. It’s an amazing dis track. These guys were READING THEIR PRESS, alright. This answer song reads almost exactly as Axl Rose’s did, back when he went after his critics on Guns N’ Roses’ rant-fuelled ‘Get in the Ring’: “if you can’t deliver with your end of the bargain, dude, why don’t you just take it easy with the snide remarks? You press monkeys are the ones left holding the bag when this musically collaborative artist job gets messy and personnel issues become bitter. Just do something that’s good enough for yourself, why don’t you? Leave me alone. I have this all work that I have to do as an artist; work that you, my worm-tongued patron, seem to suddenly have had a rather abrupt, and vocal, change of heart about — in a public forum, no less.”

It sounds spiteful, and it sounds like it hates the very vivid portrait it paints of some very specific and probably real people. In other words, it makes for compelling listening. It names no names (unlike the eternally on-the-nose lyrics by Axl, which do) but boy, oh boy, it gets juicy. The album version of this song just debuted on an iTunes pre-order download for the deluxe edition I’ve bought. It totally rules, and compared to it, the hazy-sounding version that was accompanying a music video for the song circulating online last year did little to make Black’s incredibly biting lyrics hit home. Maybe it’s the increased quality of the iTunes format, maybe it’s just that the backing vocals have been mixed out of the first stanza and pared down to one line repeated over and over, but here he sounds up-front and clear as a bell, staking his claim as a fearsome bandleader, and victorious in the war to preserve his artistic identity in the face of a perceived challenge to it.

I only wonder if there will be other ears to hear this new incarnation of Pixies, as provocative and weird as ever, now sounding mad as hell. It’s one part Frank Zappa, one part aforementioned GN’R and one part vintage hell-stompin’ Pixies in rampage mode.

Here are the lyrics to the album version, transcribed because I’ve not seen them written down yet:

 

I had a bad reaction to your public hobby-writings. I get no satisfaction from your Very Recent Sightings — like when I hear the sound of feet slappin’ on the runway; like a small bird, pretty, while it’s crappin’ on the new day…

So disappointed I was that I had made small talk with you (cover your breath, cover your teeth). I’m not ‘feelin’ your buzz’, I only smell your crock of stew (cover your breath, cover your teeth).

Bagboy!

She had some beauty and manners, but she looked like a bug (cover your breath, cover your teeth). Migration’s other type were such good planners, and not smug (cover your breath, cover your teeth)!

Bagboy!

You are proselytizing alone, listening to the Voice ‘with your ears’ (cover your breath, cover your teeth). You have regurgitated a tone, now sad, in your tracts for many years (cover your breath, cover your teeth)… picked up from dead things that you licked.

It’s a feedback loop you can’t evict (cover your breath, cover your teeth). Bagboy!

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