Almost two years after its initial release, I have finally gotten around to watching loudQUIETloud, the documentary made to document the 2004 reunion tour of the Pixies. It shames me as an uberfan that it has taken me so long to buy and immerse myself in this film, but the wait is now over.
As if to drive the point home of the immense influence of the Pixies on modern rock, the movie begins with a quotation in white text on a black background:
“I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies.” – Kurt Cobain on Smells Like Teen Spirit
A later live performance of “UMass” demonstrates the influence that the Pixies had on Cobain, as the chorus riff is almost identical to Nirvana’s signature tune. Previous documentaries such as “The Pixies: Gouge” have traced their influence through interviews with some of rock’s biggest stars, from Radiohead, Bono, and PJ Harvey to David Bowie. Even more telling are the interviews with fans in loudQUIETloud. We get to see young Icelandic tweens embracing and losing control of themselves at the prospect of meeting Kim Deal, as well as an obsessive American teen who has formed a Pixies tribute band. As a cute added bonus, footage of the young tribute band performing “Monkey Gone To Heaven” is intercut with a live perfomance of the Pixies doing the same tune.
One of the things that has always struck me as odd about this seminal indie rock group is how little success and acclaim many of the members have achieved on their own after the band’s acrimonious 1992 breakup. Charles Thompson has enjoyed a steady but quiet solo career as both Frank Black and Black Francis, but one that, in the words of Thompson himself, will always be “overshadowed by this other band called the Pixies.” Drummer David Lovering has retreated from the music scene and indulged in numerous hobbies, including magic, science, and metal detecting. Kim Deal enjoyed some modest success with The Breeders, the band she formed with her sister Kelley, before both sisters became embroiled in their various addictions and rehab stints. Lastly, lead guitarist Joey Santiago has become a family man, subsisting on money made from the scoring of small documentaries and largely staying out of the rock ‘n’ roll limelight except for occasionally contributing to Thompson’s solo projects and the formation of an acoustic duo called The Martinis with his wife Linda Mallari.
Another focal point of my interest in the band has been how four fairly regular Joes (and Jane) came together to produce some of the most distinctive and groundbreaking indie rock of the 1980’s. Sitting down to view the film, I realized how much I had built up the individual personalities of each bandmate in my mind due to lack of actual knowledge of their personal lives. The film provides a nice window into their current realities that helped tear down my unfounded and preconceived notions about the band members and their motivations for reforming.
It is made clear in the beginning of the film that both Lovering and Santiago have fallen on hard financial times, and Thompson also hints at financial motivations. This is summed up by Santiago’s christening of the reunion tour as “The Pixies Sellout”, a clever, tongue in cheek entendre that is explained away because the band sells out every venue. Only Deal seems genuinely concerned about how the fans will react, expressing that she only wants to continue doing the tour as long as people seem like they want to come out and see the Pixies.
As mentioned before, Santiago is now the father of two young children, and Thompson lives with his girlfriend and her two young children from a previous relationship. It is also revealed during the film that Charles’s girlfriend is pregnant. David Lovering struggles with his father’s diagnosis with inoperable cancer, so much so that he resorts to alcohol and valium, threatening to nearly destroy the reunion tour after the three other members storm off stage due to the drummer’s erratic and obviously drug-influenced behavior. Meanwhile, Kim Deal struggles with her recovery from alcoholism by latching onto her sister Kelley and embroidering obsessively while chugging non-alcoholic beer.
So wrapped up are they in their own personal issues, the band members barely even speak to each other throughout the duration of the tour. Thompson doesn’t even travel with the rest of the band. A small amount of time is given to the original split of the band, and, while some of the band members appear to be making nice in each other’s company, there is little doubt that they just don’t have that much to say to each other anymore. Thompson is questioned a few times throughout the film about the possibility of new Pixies material, and he seems game, but nothing ever materializes, due probably to the fact that the band is made up of, according to Kelley Deal, “the worst four communicators… EVER!”
In addition to the humanizing of these iconic rock ‘n’ roll figures, the film also shows several nice performances from the live tour, including Deal’s angelic rendition of “In Heaven” from David Lynch’s film Eraserhead. These performances perfectly capture the energy and the excitement of both the music and the crowds during the reunion tour, of which I was able to attend two shows here in Austin. It’s incredible how much more well known the Pixes have become today than they were when they split over fifteen years ago. Fans young and old come out to the shows, and the film gives us small glimpses into the mindset of those who have been waiting almost two decades for this reunion, as well as the band members themselves. In one segment, Kelley Deal asks fans waiting in line for a show in London why they think the Pixes broke up. One fan responds, “Because they were too good!” When the same fan is asked why he thinks they have gotten back together, he responds simply, “Because they are too good!”