For as many great songs and albums as the Pixies recorded, their main claim to notoriety may be having inspired Nirvana. When Rolling Stone magazine asked Kurt Cobain about his influences to “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, he mentioned the Pixies. “I was trying to write the ultimate pop song. I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies,” said Cobain. According to Soundscan, all nine Pixies albums combined (Come On Pilgrim, Surfer Rosa, Doolittle, Bossanova, Trompe Le Monde, Complete B-Sides, Live at the BBC, Death To The Pixies, and Purple Tape) have sold less than two million copies. Nirvana’s album Nevermind has sold to date 26 million copies, and was named “best album of the 90s” by Time Magazine in their list of “Top 100 Albums of All Time.”
The Pixies did not make the list.
loudQUIETloud (a reference to the band’s propensity to perform quiet verses and screaming choruses — the exact formula Kurt Cobain copied) is a documentary about the Pixies, a four-piece band from Boston that performed alternative music before alternative music had a label. The band was formed in 1986, and dissolved in 1992 after lead singer Francis Black announced during a radio interview that the band had broken up … before he told the rest of the band. (The other members were informed soon afterwards, by fax.) The film picks up the story in 2004, as the Pixies have decided to reunite for a world-wide tour.
For a few moments we get to witness the band members in their lives outside the Pixies, and collectively, they all seem much happier. During the band’s hiatus between 1992 and 2004, After the Pixies broke up in 1992, lead singer Black Francis (Frank Black) recorded a dozen solo albums, bassist Kim Deal enjoyed success with The Breeders, guitarist Joey Santiago has been working on film scores, and drummer David Lovering decided to enjoy his favorite two hobbies, metal detecting and magic. Yes, magic.
But early on, there’s trouble in paradise. As the tour launches, we learn Kim Deal has brought her twin sister Kelly (also from The Breeders) along for the ride and the two of them will be riding in their own RV, separate from the rest of the band. At each hotel, the members of the band go to their own room to do their own things. Joey continues to work on his film score, David falls into substance abuse while mourning the loss of his father, and Frank Black gives multiple interviews about “the current state of the Pixies” while the Deal twins work on Breeders material on their RV, drink non-alcoholic beer, smoke, and chug Starbucks coffee. To drive home the point of the band’s dysfunction, the film includes a minute-long scene in which the four members of the band sit together in a room, silent, ignoring one another.
Throughout the film the Pixies play sold out show after show to clubs full of kids that must’ve been in diapers when the Pixies formed. At each show, kids crowd the front row and, with fists pumping in the air, shout along to the favorite songs. If only the Pixies had as much fun as those kids; instead they play, often turning away from one another on stage. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, seeing the next generation of kids rocking out to three men who all shave their heads to hide their male pattern baldness.
While loudQUIETloud may not win over any new Pixies fans, it does a good job of showing the reality of being in a band. The only time the band members seem happy at all is when they’re talking to family members, whether it’s Frank Black spending time with his son at an aquarium or Joey chatting over the Internet with his wife and young daughter. The rest of the time the band seems like a miserable lot, spending as little time together as possible and cashing the checks while they do it.
After listening to a few old Pixies albums, it’s difficult to understand why the band wasn’t bigger than they were; after watching this documentary, it’s difficult to understand why they would want to get back together at all.