For many years, it was virtually impossible to imagine any sort of Pixies reunion. Charles Thompson (ak/a Black Francis, a/k/a Frank Black) informed his bandmates that he quit via fax in 1993, shortly after they wrapped up a dispiriting slog across America opening for U2 on the Zoo TV tour. By this point, bassist Kim Deal and Thompson weren’t even speaking, and that silence stuck for over a decade.
So many were surprised in early 2004 when word came out that the Pixies were going to perform at Coachella. Here you can check out their performance of “Caribou” from the festival.
So why did they reunite? Simply put, none of them were doing that well financially at the time and their legend had grown to a point where a reunion tour was going to be highly lucrative. “Nobody got ripped off,” said Thompson in Fool the World: The Oral History of a Band Called Pixies. “We all made lots of money. I know everyone’s made a lot of money because I’m privy to how much the checks are for. Everyone did good. For a little indie rock band, we did really good.”
During their initial go-round, the Pixies never got beyond clubs and small theaters in America. (They were considerably more popular in Europe.) Initially, their break-up seemed poorly timed because it happened to coincide with the mainstream culture fully embracing alternative rock, but the band was a spent force at this point. Their last album, 1992’s Trompe le Monde, was essentially a Thompson solo album. Deal had turned her attention towards the Breeders and a break-up was inevitable.
Kurt Cobain did much to preach the gospel of the Pixies after their split, even suggesting that “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was an attempt to “rip off the Pixies.” The prominent use of “Where Is My Mind” in Fight Club helped them gain a new audience, but something bigger was happening. Teenagers were beginning to discover that Doolittle and Surfer Rosa were pretty much flawless albums. The Pixies became an unlikely part of the classic rock canon.
Nobody quite knew how well a reformed Pixies would do on the road in 2004. They opened the tour on April 4th, 2004, at the Fine Line Music Cafe in Minneapolis and the response was absolutely rapturous. A quick warm-up leg through Canada also earned amazing reviews, then they nearly stole the show from Radiohead when they preceded them on the mainstage at Coachella. From there, they hit the road hard, touring heavily until late 2005 and making more money than they’d ever seen in their lives.
By 2009, their reunion had lasted longer than their initial span of time together. They also failed to record any new material, so their 2009-2011 Doolittle tour didn’t quite generate the same excitement as the 2004-2005 shows, but they still played to packed crowds across the world.
“I really appreciate those songs,” Thompson told Spinner in 2012. “They’ve done me and my family good financially, but it’s like, ‘Really? ‘Where Is My Mind’ again? ‘Gigantic’ again?’ Yeah, I do get a little bored of all that occasionally. It’s repetitious to sing those songs year after year after year. I always appreciate it but, especially by the end of the tour, I’m begging to get off.”
The Pixies took 2012 off and Kim Deal is going to spend at least part of 2013 celebrating the 20th anniversary of Last Splash with a Breeders tour, but this is also the 25th anniversary of Surfer Rosa. Might there be a tour to celebrate it? The band has been silent, but a Facebook message from the band on New Year’s Eve did say “See you in 2013!”