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Last Updated: Wednesday, 2 June 2004, 09:46 GMT 10:46 UK
The Pixies: Rock's comeback kings
By Stephen Dowling
BBC News Online entertainment staff

Pixies in the 1980s
David Bowie covered the band's hit Debaser with his project Tin Machine
The Pixies, one of rock's most influential bands, continue their comeback on Wednesday with their first UK show for 13 years, before playing at festivals across Europe this summer.

Hailing from Boston, Massachusetts, the four-piece were never pin-ups, never topped the singles charts on either side of the Atlantic, or went multi-platinum.

But without them, the modern rock scene since would be very different.

Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain was clear that without the Pixies, there never would have been a Smells Like Teen Spirit.

Thom Yorke of Radiohead has hailed the band's leader - the mysteriously-titled Black Francis - as one of the best songwriters of the late 1980s.

There are echoes and whispers of the Pixies in records by everyone from The Strokes to PJ Harvey, Ash to The White Stripes.

And their effect has been felt by elder statesmen like David Bowie and U2's Bono, who said they were re-energised by the anarchic, otherworldly music this eccentric rock group made.

Their sound was also a great, in-your-face, post-punk guitar racket
Chris Colbourn
Buffalo Tom

The Pixies formed in 1986. Charles Michael Kitridge Thompson IV - or Black Francis - had spent the previous year studying in Puerto Rico, decided he would either travel to New Zealand to watch Halley's Comet or form a rock band back in Boston.

The 21-year-old roped in former college room-mate Joey Santiago, originally from The Philippines, and the duo put an ad in a paper seeking a bass player who was into both US hardcore band Husker Du and folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.

There was only one reply - from a female bassist called Kim Deal. She flew back to her home town of Dayton, Ohio, having borrowed $50 from Francis for the air fare to pick up her bass.

The band, joined by drummer Dave Lovering, soon became a cult group around Boston.

A 1980s-era Pixies with Francis (second right) and Deal (second left)
Their melodic, yet unhinged pop songs sounded unlike almost any band before, taking elements of punk, surf guitar instrumentals, psychedelia and pure pop - allied to Francis' idiosyncratic lyrics about UFOs, labour and incest.

They were not chart-friendly - but they were immediately important, Chris Colbourn, a member of the Pixies' Boston contemporaries Buffalo Tom told BBC News Online.

"They were a big influence on everyone playing in garage bands in Boston back in late 80s.

"The Pixies were a real blueprint for making a name for themselves by leaving the cosy nest of Boston and touring in Europe, getting signed to a label in England.

"I was basically trying to rip off the Pixies
Kurt Cobain on Smells Like Teen Spirit

"Their sound was also a great, in-your-face, post-punk guitar racket," he said.

The band picked up a deal with the 4AD label in the UK and were soon were getting rave reviews in the music press - first for their 1987 debut Come On Pilgrim EP, a batch of demos financed by Francis's father.

On songs such as Caribou and Holiday Song, The Pixies cemented their dynamic - short verses and driving choruses with a soft/loud rhythm exacerbated by Francis' screamed, bloodcurdling lyrics.

Their full-length debut, Surfer Rosa, became one of the most critically-lauded albums of the late 1980s and included songs such as Broken Face, Where is My Mind and Bone Machine - a deranged, squalling classic that became a live favourite.

The Pixies in 2004
The Pixies started their reunion with shows in the US, to positive reviews
In 1989, they released Doolittle, a record that still crops up regularly in greatest record polls, and saw the four-piece mining a classic pop sound.

Its highlights included Here Comes Your Man and La La Love You, as well as their signature tune Debaser, a fevered ode to the surrealist film La Chien Andalou.

In true Pixies style, it was the closest the band got to a bona-fide hit record.


By 1990, despite growing acclaim and bigger tours, The Pixies' most successful album - Bossanova - could still only chart at number 70 in the US.

And while it was a top three record in the UK, the Pixies still seemed too strange and unsettling for the mainstream.

The band were finding it difficult to carry on. Francis and Deal were clashing and the band's founder decided a solo career - under the name Frank Black - was more appealing.

They would release one more record in 1991, Trompe Le Monde, and play concerts in venues as big as Crystal Palace Bowl in London - but the end was on the books.

They dissolved quietly, with Black releasing his first solo record in 1993 and Deal recording with her Pixies-like project The Breeders.

Before the dust had even settled, a band admitted they were following in the Pixies' footsteps.

Nirvana's Kurt Cobain said their breakthrough song Smells Like Teen Spirit, with its soft-loud dynamic was "basically trying to rip off the Pixies".

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