If there is one single band that deserves credit for the grunge wave that washed over the US and Europe after Nirvana's seminal "Nevermind", it is the Pixies. The abrasive minor key guitars, vocals that alternately howled and whispered, and rock solid rhythm sections are traits shared by both bands. But the Pixies replaced Nirvana's distanced irony and edgy self-loathing with a spaced-out sense of humor and a cool self-confidence that made them a critic's darling in the music press and a must-see live show in clubs everywhere.
It is the live Pixies performance that is showcased on "Pixies at the BBC". Culled from six recording sessions for the legendary John Peel show spanning three years, this disc is fairly representative of the Pixies when they were at the height of their game. I had the chance to see them twice myself, during the "Doolittle" and "Trompe Le Monde" tours, and just from a few listens I can say that this disc is a pretty faithful recreation of the Pixies live.
The disc starts out with "Wild Honey Pie", not so much a cover of the Beatles song as an excuse for Black Francis to make noise. Appropriately, they also started many of their shows with this number. On the "Doolittle" tour they would also frequently write their set list in reverse alphabetical order, so this would often be followed by "(Into the) White" and "Wave of Mutilation". "Wave" is also featured on this disc, played the way I always heard them play it livea dreamy, spaced out version that showcases the Pixies' dry sense of humor. Other standout cuts include "There Goes My Gun", "Levitate Me", B-side "Manta Ray", "Hey", and a version of "Down to the Well" which easily outdoes its "Bossa Nova" counterpart.
There are a few disappointments on the disc, however. Although "Doolittle" is well represented despite the absence of such classics as "Debaser" and "Gouge Away", the first two albums are virtually nonexistant, with only "Levitate Me" and "Caribou" making the cut. The strongest songs in the Pixies later catalog are also mysteriously absentno "Planet of Sound" or "Velouria", the signature songs from "Trompe Le Monde" and "Bossa Nova" respectively. It's possible (although unlikely) that the Pixies just didn't record these songs during their many Peel sessions, but it seems curious that such hits as these weren't included either on this record or last year's "Pixies Are Dead" best of/live collection. On a personal note, I was also disappointed to see that "Letter to Memphis", one of my favorites from the Pixies final studio album, was severed from its little sister "Palace of the Brine", which the Pixies performed as essentially one song both on "Trompe Le Monde" and in their live shows (the two songs are merged musicallya bridge morphs "Palace" into the opening chords of "Letter").
When the Pixies broke up in 1993, it seemed that their legacy would continue undeterred. Singer and guitarist Black Francis morphed into Frank Black as a solo artist and released two critically acclaimed albums that continued to evolve the signature sound that he had created with the Pixies. Bassist Kim Deal (the coolest woman on the planet) picked up a guitar and found her own voice with the Breeders, releasing an EP and two full albums, including the hit single "Cannonball", which went into heavy rotation on MTV and seemed to enshrine the Breeders as one of the preeminent groups of the burgeoning alternative music scene.
In the last few years, however, things have not gone as well for the splinter groups. Frank Black's third album was a commercial and critical flop, and its follow up, to be released in the U.S. on September 8, is being released on an independent label and has received less than stellar reviews. Kim Deal broke up the Breeders and released what was essentially a solo album under the name the Ampsa good record, although not as good as either of the Breeders albumsbut she hasn't been heard from since.
The Pixies will live on, however, through their influence on current and future artists, as well as through releases such as this one. Their albums, particularly "Doolittle", have a timeless quality due to the unique vision of Black Francis and the Pixies. Their music sounds as original and interesting today as it did ten years ago, a rare feat that few of their peers were able to accomplish. Those unfamiliar with the Pixies legacy will want to start with one of their classic studio albums, such as "Surfer Rosa" or "Doolittle", but "Pixies at the BBC" is a perfect counterpart to these studio efforts, capturing the unique attitude that the Pixies brought to their live shows. Even if the track selection is a little mystifying at times, this remains a solid disc that every Pixies fan should have in their collection.