The Pixies are, and always have been, lead singer/rhythm guitarist Black Francis, guitarist Joey Santiago, bassist/background vocalist Kim Deal, and drummer David Lovering. Francis and Santiago were roommates at University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1984. Two years later the two formed a band, and Deal and Lovering completed the quartet. After the "Come On Pilgrim" EP in 1987, they released four albums in four years. They weren't big sellers on the pop charts; however, not only were they critically acclaimed, but the Pixies was one of many bands that pushed alternative music towards the mainstream for both listeners and artists.
I saw the Pixies open up for The Cure and Love and Rockets on September 11th, 1989 at Dodger Stadium, and a year later in December I caught them twice at the Hollywood Palladium between Jane's Addiction and Primus. I wouldn't have described myself as a fan back then, but I enjoyed the songs I heard on the radio because they had a unique sound and thought they put on good shows.
In the January 1994 issue of "Rolling Stone", Kurt Cobain says about "Smells Like Teen Spirit", "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." Many other musicians have sung their praises as well. Damon Albarn of Blur told SPIN about their 1997 self-titled album, "When we started we wanted to sound like the Pixies." Radiohead's Thom Yorke claimed they were "the greatest band ever" in Guitar World Magazine, April 1998.
Band acrimony caused them to split up in 1993 before they could take advantage of the changes taking place in music. They reunited in 2004 as a touring band and continue to do so at the time of this review's publication six years later. While there has been talk of new material, only a couple of songs have surfaced.
This Blu-ray repackages two previously released Pixies DVDs recorded after their reformation. "Acoustic: Live in Newport" (79 min) is from the 2005 Newport Folk Festival. This sunny afternoon on a Rhode Island beach was the band's first official acoustic set. They played selections from their entire catalog, although only one, "Subbacultcha", comes off their final album, "Trompe le Monde". Hearing these songs played with different arrangements is a treat and reveals how good the music is when stripped down. The band seems slightly nervous about the undertaking, but they do a very fine job. Of the 22-song set, seven aren't repeated in the Electric show, including the U.S. Modern Rock hit "Here Comes Your Man."
The "Electric" portion comes from "Club Date: Live at the Paradise in Boston" (92 min). This hometown show was performed a few days after the Newport gig to 200 lucky fans. This is a much better representation of the Pixies. They cover more material and 14 of the 29 songs weren't played during the acoustic show. They open with "La La Love You" sung by Lovering, whose mother is in the audience. Next up is a cover of Neil Young's "Winterlong" and then "Into The White" sung by Deal.
"Vamos" is the first electric song that can be contrasted with an acoustic version and it's Santiago that thrives being plugged in. On the bridge, he plays a great solo. He sets the guitar down and causes it to feedback on itself while he plays with his gear. He then uses a drumstick to play it.
Both concerts demonstrate the talents of the band members and the quality of their music. Since they weren't hawking any new material in 2005, these best-of sets serve a dual purpose. They make for a great introduction to the Pixies while still retaining plenty of deep album cuts sure to please longtime fans.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Eagle Entertainment brings 'Pixies – Live: Acoustic and Electric' to high-definition on a BD-25 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. The disc boots up directly to the menu. It is reported to be region free.
Both sets are presented with a 1080i/MPEG-4 encoded transfer at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The video of the acoustic set appears to have had a film grain look added at some point in the process. There's minimal color on stage as the band wears bland, neutral colors with Deal in a blue shirt. There's no curtain at the back of the stage, so instead we see a beige building. The blacks are slightly washed out due to the sunlight.
Audience members wear most of the color on view, and they are moderately bright. Colors, including skintones, are inconsistent throughout, but this is likely due to a combination of the setting sun's light changing colors, and shots being edited out of chronological order.
There's good depth, especially in full shots of the entire band on stage. Some of the shots go soft, but that's are a result of cameras needing to be refocused as opposed to transfer issues. Before the encore of "Gigantic", a camera shot into the crowd from the stage shows an odd separation of images as a result of the intensity of sun beaming into the lens overwhelming the device.
Under the bright lights of the small club and the lack of "film grain", the image is a lot sharper and edges are better defined. With the cameras closer, there are fewer times when they need to be refocused, and depth remains strong. Facial details are more evident in the close-ups. The colors appear more vibrant and blacks are deeper, contributing to a stronger contrast.
Eagle Entertainment offers three audio options as is their standard. DTS HD Master Audio, Dolby Digital 5.1, and LPCM Stereo, although the Dolby option isn’t really a good choice with how poor the dynamics sounds in comparison to the other two choices.
During the acoustic set, the DTS track presents the music clean and clear with the instruments separated and distinct from each other. The acoustic guitars really sing out, Deal's bass strums are rich and heavy, and the drumming is solid with the crispness of the cymbals ringing out.
The dynamics of the band's trademark loud/quiet/loud sound are better showcased on the electric set where the music gets understandably louder. However, the clarity of the individual instruments doesn't suffer because of it. The subwoofer has much more bass to deliver from Deal and Lovering.
Both sets accomplish a few things equally well. The singers can be clearly understood, although for some songs that presumes you speak Spanish. The music comes through the surrounds to immerse the viewer, and each audience can be heard applauding and shouting at band.
For fans of the band, or those curious about them and their alternative musical stylings, Eagle Entertainment's 'Pixies – Live: Acoustic and Electric' makes for a great double bill, as the reunion hasn't tarnished their legacy. The Blu-ray delivers a great audio/visual experience, although the repetition of songs between setlists may warrant a break between watching them. There's no new material, so DVD users would be double-dipping for the high definition specs alone.