Alternative-rock guitar heroes usually shun axe-man showmanship, but Joey Santiago of the Pixies has managed to rewrite the book without forgoing some good old-fashioned heavy shredding. With songs like the jam-ready “Vamos,” it’s no wonder Sunday’s Pixies show at Napa’s Uptown Theatre sold out in just minutes.
“It’s sold-out? Then why the hell am I talking to you?” Santiago laughs, via phone from L.A. “That’s just surprising, things selling out that fast. It’s pretty incredible.”
Yes, the Pixies’ second coming has been nothing short of astonishing, with the type of widespread popularity that eluded them during their initial five-year run. In 1992, just when their disciples Nirvana were topping the charts, the Pixies disbanded, reportedly via fax from frontman Frank Black.
“To be honest, it’s folklore,” confirms Santiago of the famous story. “He might have faxed the manager, but I can tell you this: I didn’t even have a fax machine.”
Twelve years later, Black used a phone to reach his old friend with whom he formed the band after dropping out of UMass. The whole music thing took a few years of convincing for Santiago’s white-collar Filipino parents. “It was only after they saw the ‘Here Comes Your Man’ video on MTV!”
Suddenly the Pixies found themselves with a younger, larger audience. “The main carrot on the stick was we were going to play Coachella,” he says of their celebrated reunion in 2004. “[I thought,] ‘If it sounds like shit, we’re not going to do it.’ Kim [Deal, bassist and vocalist] had the same sentiment. We’d shake hands and go, ‘All right! We gave it the old college try.'”
Thankfully, their chemistry remained. David Lovering’s thundering drums buoyed Deal’s cherubic vocals and simple bass lines like they always had, while Black’s punctuated screeches echoed Santiago’s innovative, corrosive guitar attack.
“In ‘Savoy Truffle,’ George Harrison might have been conjuring up a drill,” he says of his technique’s inspiration. “I liked the bent notes he was doing, and I just milked the shit out of it. I do it often.”
While this current tour celebrates 1989’s Doolittle, their other great album Surfer Rosa hasn’t yet received the “in its entirety” treatment. But some songs from other albums inevitably find their way on to the set list.
“When we do ‘Gigantic,’ there’s a banter in the beginning,” Santiago says, “Sometimes [we] do it; it’s pretty funny.”
Although they’ve recorded exactly one song since reforming (2004’s “Bam Thwock”), Santiago reveals they’re “chit-chatting” about more. Seven years in, the Pixies 2.0 still hate planning.
“Honestly, we don’t have anything planned after this,” Santiago says. “Meanwhile, I’m going to throw away my fax machine.”