With back to back iconic classics — 1988’s “Surfer Rosa” and 1989’s “Doolittle” — and three other renowned and critically acclaimed albums, The Pixies all but inspired a new wave of college rock. Almost as well-known as their indie legacy, which has ins`pired thousands of bands since (not least of which Nirvana), was the acrimony that ultimately led frontman Black Francis to deliver pink slips to the rest of the band via fax machine. If “Hey!: Live Pixies 2004-2005,” and the tours from which the tracks were drawn, are any indication, the Pixies, absentee indie heroes in the intervening decade-plus, have abandoned their hate.
Yet the excitement of their world-spanning 2004 and 2005 tours (over 150 shows in the U.S., Canada, Europe, Japan and Brazil) has largely failed to carry over to the 28 recordings on this live two-CD set, available exclusively from online music subscription service eMusic. Sharply recorded, the album nevertheless plays as an uninspiring live Greatest Hits. Only time (and the Pixies’ promised new studio LP) will tell whether this compilation, lacking any unique merits, will be regarded as the first gasp from the newly-rejuvenated Pixies, or as the indie-rock version of the Eagles’ “Hell Freezes Over.”
The first question with any live recording is sound quality, and in that regard “Hey!: Live Pixies” does not disappoint. All but one track was recorded by audio engineers The Show (who incidentally are offering CDs on their Website of each of the recorded Pixies shows). The band selected and arranged the tracks on “Hey!: Live Pixies” from these recordings. Applause is muted but present; on the one hand, this makes for clearer instrumentation and vocals, but on the other hand, this, plus a noticeable lack of banter, makes the recording feel slightly dead.
Thanks to the consistent audio quality, the Pixies essentially had their pick of songs for this release. Sadly, their selections are nothing short of disappointing. Most surprisingly, the band failed to include their only new song, “Bam Thwok,” which fans had downloaded en masse from iTunes earlier this year. Furthermore, of their earlier material, their selections inordinately favor their biggest album “Doolittle.” Fully half of “Hey!: Live Pixies” is drawn from songs recorded during the “Doolittle” sessions, including versions of twelve of the 1988 album’s fifteen tracks.
Because of this glut, their other albums, most notably “Surfer Rosa,” unfairly get considerably less attention. 70% of the tracks on the band’s greatest hits compilation, “Wave of Mutilation: The Best of the Pixies”, are seen here. So where are “Tame” (supposedly stunning live) and “Where Is My Mind?” (made semi-famous by its inclusion in David Fincher’s “Fight Club”) — both of which were performed frequently on the tours? Other quasi-hits like “Allison” from 1990’s “Bossanova” and “Alec Eiffel” from 1991’s “Trompe le Monde” were also conspicuously absent. These inexplicable exclusions point to the band’s failure either to accurately replicate their stage sets or simply collect their hits.
Furthermore, the only major changes to any of these songs are the acoustic “Here Comes Your Man” from the Newport Folk Festival and the extended (and boring) distortion jam in the middle of “Vamos.” The otherwise by-the-books renditions vary regrettably little from the studio versions. The Pixies certainly sound like they’re having fun (and for that matter so does the audience) but that joy, translated through the recordings, only suggests that it might have been cool to have attended one of the shows, and not have to listen to it on CD.
One Pixies legend has it that the officious Francis informed bassist Kim Deal that she could write a song for their 1988 debut LP “Surfer Rosa” as long as she included the word “gigantic”. She passive-aggressively responded by naming the song (her sole songwriting credit — and one of the best songs — on the album) “Gigantic,” and composing the chorus almost entirely of the word “gigantic” repeated over and over.
In contrast, the song concludes the second CD of “Hey!: Live Pixies” and thus the imagined concert that the album constructs. In the final minute the four band members lovingly and jokingly wish each other goodnight, an incredibly touching moment. Yet as an album finale it’s equally misguided. “Hey!: Live Pixies 2004-2005” should reintroduce the Pixies to the world, not put them to bed.