In an era when mystery was virtually as important to the development of a great alternative rock act as guitar or drums, the Pixies were quite possibly the most mysterious of them all. Armed with inscrutable lyrics about Surrealist cinema and Nimrod's sons, an arty visual aesthetic which precluded group photos on the album covers, and a stage presence that boiled down to standing stock still and playing as viscerally as possible, they were a truly enigmatic force, more like a coven of obscure European avant-gardists than a mere American rock band.
Even today, elements of their all-too-brief epoch remain shrouded in mystery - things like the precise motivations behind their breakup in 1992, or the much whispered about sexual tension between Kim Deal and Charles Thompson. There's still a sense that we'll never really get to know the Pixies, and if anything, that makes them all the more enticing.
It also goes a long way toward explaining why their reunion in 2004 came as such a surprise; engimas don't get back together for sold-out world tours, they don't conduct extensive interviews, and they certainly don't release upwards of half a dozen CDs and videos within a two-year period to document their return to the concert stage. But the Pixies did. And so you'll have to excuse my kneejerk reaction to the first couple minutes of their new DVD Live at the Paradise in Boston, which is something along the lines of, "This is the most surreal thing I've ever fucking seen." There they are, the mythical Pixies, in all their glory, playing what might be their last intimate club date as a band together. And what do they do? Stroll onstage, shuffle around a little bit, and then tear into... "La La Love You?"
Doolittle deep cut before Thompson brings it screeching to the halt. He then essays a pretty decent Springsteen impersonation, and, all smiles, leads the others into a second attempt at the song. And that, more or less, is how the show proceeds. They take requests, they crack jokes, they talk to each other. Not a single guitar gets kicked across the stage. And it's great, but for people like me who came of age with little to know of the Pixies but their stand-offish reputation, it's also weird as hell.
In all honesty, though, the Pixies have probably never sounded better than they have in the years 2004-2006. They're tighter than a band who spent most of the last 15 years in acrimonious distance has any right to be; Joey Santiago's guitar playing, though still stylistically unique, is technically better than it ever was during the "peak" era (his solo during "Vamos" kills); and contrary to what his solo work might have you believe, the artist formerly known as Black Francis can still manage a surprisingly blood-curdling howl (see: "Something Against You").