Concert preview: The 5 most timeless Pixies songs

Published February 14, 2014 4:52 pm
Concert preview • A look at 5 of the most remarkable tunes of a band that influenced the sound of a decade.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The greatest test of songwriting is the test of time. Good music can transcend centuries. It can even show through dated recording techniques, tones and timbres best left to the decades they were born in.

Such is the endurance of The Pixies. Despite sounding ridiculously '90s on the records, so thin in places that it's almost like the ghost of a recording, the simple brilliance of these songs shines through. And it's even more amazing how '90s these songs sound because many of them were recorded in the '80s.

That's how influential The Pixies were and are — everybody ripped them off, basically creating the alternative music sound of the decade. Like so many bands, they were influential, but not overly popular, at least not until a long time after they called it quits. They didn't even get their first gold record until 2005, 12 years after they broke up.

Of course, now they're one of the biggest acts around. After reuniting in 2004, they've been on world tour after world tour, and they're coming to The Great Saltair on Saturday. Just so you're properly prepped for the show, here are five of the most timeless Pixies songs, the kind that stand the test of time so well they'll always be classics.

"Gigantic" • This song is classic Kim Deal (the bassist left the band last year), and one of the few songs co-written by Deal and frontman Charles Thompson (aka Black Francis). It's a tune that's incredibly simple, almost senselessly simple, so repetitive and ambiguously phrased that you could pretty much begin the song on any beat and it would sound right. It starts out timid, almost a bit scared. But by the end, it's as gigantic a song as its title suggests. It also has the distinction of being The Pixies' sexiest song, which perhaps isn't the greatest distinction considering they might be one of music's least-sexy bands, musically speaking. Nevertheless, the fact that a song like "Gigantic" still gets radio play to this day, almost 30 years after it was released, speaks volumes. And it makes you sad that Deal is no longer in the band, writing songs just as good.

"Monkey Gone to Heaven" • It seems impossible that a song that starts with the words "There was a guy," and contains the words "monkey" and "sludge," could attain any kind of emotional or thematic depth. But "Monkey Gone to Heaven" is a superbly executed musing on the stupidity and silliness of humans in the face of an enormous world that itself could collapse at any time, largely due to our own meddling. A sea god is killed by 10 million pounds of waste and a sky god succumbs to the ozone hole in just under three minutes. It's also got perhaps the most gripping lyrics in The Pixies' entire corpus: "If man is five then the devil is six, and if the devil is six then God is seven." Combine that with an otherwordly scream and it's able, in just a few words, to place humans at the bottom of a mad hierarchy where we provide both the foundation and the instability that can take down even the most powerful forces in the universe.

Also, it's just a fun song.

"Wave of Mutilation" • This has everything we've come to expect from a Pixies song: the quiet-loud dynamic scheme, the off meter chorus, the lyrics that are as strange as they are memorable, the simple chord changes. It may not be the greatest song ever written, or even the best Pixies song, but it's one of those that jump out no matter what decade you're in.

"Broken Face" • Sometimes we forget that The Pixies can be fast and loud and on the verge of a noise punk band. It's less difficult to forget that Black Francis can be a very creepy lyricist. "I got no lips I got no tongue/Where there were eyes there's only space." Combining that creepiness with some taboo sexual content — though nothing you haven't watched or read in "Game of Thrones" — and an upbeat, aggressive song makes for something that's almost a contradiction. It's catchy enough that you can listen to it 20 times before you realize what you're really listening to. And then you keep listening anyway.

Also of note is that this song draws a straight line between The Pixies and Nirvana. Kurt Cobain himself said that "Smells Like Teen Spirit" was his way of trying to write a Pixies song. Seriously, listen to "Broken Face" and then "Territorial Pissings" or "Lounge Act" by Nirvana back to back and you'll be blown away by how similar the styles are. The biggest difference is that Butch Vig, who produced "Nevermind," knew how to get that big sound out of a band, while Gil Norton, who has recorded every Pixies album since "Doolittle," was still coming into his own.

"Where Is My Mind" • It's the most well-known and respected Pixies song of all time, and it would be hard to find someone who hasn't heard it in one place or another. "Where Is My Mind" has been featured in tons of movies, TV shows and commercials, most prominently at the end of "Fight Club," which is where a whole new generation of angst-ridden youths first came into contact with it. As the lyrics suggest, it's about swimming underwater in the Caribbean and it really does achieve that underwater feel, of drifting weightlessly while still being completely surrounded, almost suffocated. But it's also a question that each of us asks ourselves all the time, making it that rare Pixies song that is timeless not only for its superb and simple musical quality, but also for lyrical content that almost anyone can relate to. —

The Pixies with Best Coast

When • Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Where • The Great Saltair, 12408 W Saltair Drive, Magna

Cost • $33 advance, $38 day of from SmithsTix



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