loudQUIETloud: A Film About The PixiesReviewed By Slyder
Posted 12/09/10 18:52:01
(Worth A Look)
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 20 years, you surely have heard of the Pixies, right? No? Relax, all is forgiven. Actually, most of the world was probably living under a rock when the Pixies came out and singlehandedly changed and redefined a grand majority of conventions within the still young Alternative Rock scene of the late 80s and early 90s. In fact, for an American band (from Boston Massachusetts), they were more popular in the UK than in their own country (Thom Yorke and David Bowie being the more noticeable fans), but that didn’t stop young, aspiring musicians in the States as well as in the UK who were really paying attention from taking notice. One of them was Kurt Cobain. You’ve probably heard from him; that dude that fronted a band called Nirvana that literally came out of nowhere with the decade-defining smash hit Nevermind in the early 90s. Cobain never made a secret that the bulk of his music was influenced by the Pixies, even telling Rolling Stone that he was just trying to rip them off while making “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (“Gigantic” is clearly the song he’s referring to). But just as the world was slowly but surely catching on to the Pixies, they had broken up due to increasing internal conflicts. And then something funny happened. Their popularity and influence just increased as the years went by, and young listeners more and more began discovering their music and embrace it. And surely when they reunited, scores of fans, young and old cheered loudly and flocked in droves to see them for the first time in 2004 for their reunion tour, and luckily, a camera crew headed by Steve Cantor and Mathew Galkin decided to capture the scene behind the scenes and the result is this little documentary.For one that wasn’t able to attend their 2004 reunion and their subsequent Doolittle Anniversary Tour, which concluded a few months ago, this is one of the very few godsends of catching a band very few people saw live playing in a competent capacity. Like I’m pretty sure every single other new fan beforehand, my interest for the Pixies had only started through literature that I read over the years, but I never got around to listening to them until I was buzzing around the Graywhale store and came across a copy of their supposed “landmark” release “Surfer Rosa”, I was naturally intrigued by the cover (If you seen it, you know exactly what I mean), and I figured I had the money to spare, so I bought it. When I heard the album, I found myself immediately grabbed by how incredibly catchy and good it sounded; in fact, the album was so fucking good that I ended up listening to it twice that very night. 2 days later, I went and bought “Doolittle”, and although that album took a bit of a while to sink in (it wasn’t as immediate as Surfer Rosa), I ended up loving it just as much. I could sense in a way why their music didn’t catch on to the mainstream in those days since singer/songwriter/rhythm guitarist Black Francis’s (AKA Charles Thompson AKA Frank Black) lyrics tend to be rather bizarre and impenetrable (mutilation, sex, incest, UFOs, sci-fi, the bible, and other sorts of icky stuff) and their loud-quiet-loud bursts, courtesy of Joey Santiago’s two-string wails of feedback, Kim Deal’s steady bass groove and Dave Lovering’s fierce but clinical drumming, were something that just didn’t gel with a mainstream so obsessed with synth-pop and hair metal. But now these traits have become so commonplace by the many subsequent bands that brought it to the forefront during the grunge and Brit-Pop explosion, that sooner or later in this current R&B/Hip-Hop bullshit dominated world, there would be a moment when rock fans would suddenly look back and realize what they had not perceived in all those years. This is readily apparent during the movie and in the Tour gross figures that year in 2004, as thousands of fans filled the auditoriums just to see them.
The obvious challenge that Cantor and Galkin faced for a documentary like this was to flesh out a good back-story and make a compelling capsule out of the current lives of these four musicians. And in all honesty, I knew before I saw a frame of the movie that it wasn’t going to be an easy task. My first impression of them during my earlier reading is that they were four of the most ordinary looking guys you could ever find. You look at their early photos, and you wouldn’t think you’d be looking at a rock band, but rather four friends that just got together for some photographs. And that is exactly what you get when you start seeing the documentary. This point is where the film will either draw in or turn off viewers, because the expected pissing contests and conflicts seen in several other rockumentaries is simply not here. This is more of an internal action type of a conflict, for as Black Francis says, they simply do not talk to each other much, if anything at all. For everyone that doesn’t know their Pixies story, both Frank and Kim Deal butted heads tremendously as they fought for the band’s creative direction. After constant mud throwing between the two, Francis announced via a UK radio show in 1993 that the Pixies were done and faxed his statement to the other three stunned members. This is assholery at its most maximum, but then again, a pissed off Deal announced in a gig that it was “their last one” a few years before Francis did, so this was brewing for some time. But now that they’re back together, you’d expect the documentary to reveal some tension or some sparks showering from time to time (similar to pretty much every Police rehearsal during their reunion tour or the near destruction of Metallica during the recording sessions for St. Anger in Some Kind of Monster). However that didn’t happen here.
Mind you, the weary road of rock and roll stardom is definitely reflected on the four members here, but as the film goes on they still remain pretty much ordinary guys albeit with different sets of cracks in their facades. Francis or Frank (as he now calls himself, Charles is only between family and bandmates) clearly has been holding on his own through his solo career although you can sense some bitterness in him as he’s seen his efforts over the years being overshadowed rather unfairly by the Pixies’ massive influence. Yet at least he can still walk around city streets as a private citizen and enjoy himself with his family as they go on trips. Joey Santiago is also steady, working as a film composer and also performing with his wife to selected audiences. Santiago comes off the film as some sort of an enigma; the “quiet Pixie” if you get my meaning. He clearly voices out his opinions when needed, but for the most part he keeps to himself as he concentrates on his work and on his family, which during the time the documentary was shot, had welcomed a newborn boy.
The other two members, Deal and Lovering, are the most world-weary of the four members. Lovering recalls how he was in such a piss-poor state financially and emotionally, surviving via friends and dwindling royalty checks and his magic shows, only to jump in delight when Joey called him with the news of the reunion. His joy threatened to be short-lived when his father passed away in the middle of the tour due to cancer and caused him to turn to valium and heavy drinking and making him even more isolated within the band. A memorable scene is at a gig in Chicago where he completely lost the plot while playing “Something Against You”, to the point that Francis yelled at him if he was high. Francis during an interview later defended Lovering, claiming that the documentary overstepped its bounds regarding that depiction. While that may be true, that still doesn’t erase the fact that Santiago just saw it as a man suffering a total nervous breakdown. Only later during the tour when Deal makes a comment regarding how hard it is to get off Valium that the band finally reaches out for Lovering, even if it’s the most sparse of conversations, they tell him that he needs to seek help in order to counter-arrest his addictions and his depression. It’s during this scene where you can see how hard it is for the band to just reach out between each other (Lovering has subsequently kicked his habits).
Which brings us to Kim Deal: after years of drug abuse which was firmly entrenched on her since even before her teens, Deal is now clean and sober, courtesy of a stint in rehab in 2002, but is very fragile psychologically, and has requested that no alcohol to be present during the tour. She also takes twin sister Kelley Deal (whom formed The Breeders with Kim way back in the day) with her for moral and mental support. It literally broke my heart to see her in such a state, especially when Kelley confronts Kim regarding her and the band’s clear lack of communication and what it could potentially do to her in the long run. Kim, with a very quaver voice replies “I don’t care; I just don’t want you to go.” Later she discusses how paranoid she became when someone handed her a non-alcoholic beer which she thought for a second that was a real beer. Her worry is such that she almost unravels in front of the camera. Her fragileness just hit me like a ton of bricks, and I wondered aloud about the troubles this woman had to go through (Kelley for that matter too) and how she went from being such a tough and dynamic girl to an almost pitiful looking middle aged woman. Yet these weaknesses get completely obliterated when she picks of the bass guitar and starts playing those notes. Her excitement at the fan reception during the warm-up gig is such that she exclaims: “it totally fucking freaked me out!”
This scene underscores pretty much the entire point of the movie. These four individuals may still be reeling from moments past, and they try not to think about it much as Francis stated earlier in the film, maintain a unified front, while keeping the emotional cracks from expanding further, yet when they get on that stage and start to play the shit out of their classic songs, they suddenly feel and sound like a complete whole; a true rock band. Sure, it’s plain for everyone to see that one of the main motivations if not THE main motivation for this reunion is the money (as Lovering and Santiago state), but it’s very different to see a band going by the numbers just for the sake of raking in the cash, and a band that plays because they love it and because they enjoy music and enjoy playing together. This reflects primarily on them since despite the fact that not much is said between them, they still communicate through musical ideas and exchanges as seen during the many times Francis, Deal and Lovering help Santiago out with his film score. But this musical unity also reflects clearly on their fans as they go from sold-out show to sold-out show. They want to see their heroes in action, and the Pixies deliver it in spades, playing perhaps not with the same intensity when they were younger but with as much fire and energy as they can possibly muster, justifying every single reason as to why this band was so revered in their heyday. There’s scene in Chicago where we meet two teenage girls that are in a cover band and explain how they got into the Pixies via a book they bought in which one of the characters, an 8th grader, is a Pixies fan. Clearly these girls are from the new generation of Pixies fans that have appeared, and later on after the concert they meet Kim Deal and one of the girls hands her the aforementioned book, with all the highlighted passages which detail the book’s character’s obsession with the Pixies and especially Deal. And it’s there during this moment where Deal gets yet another surprise as to finding out how influential her work with the band has been with people (her reaction is simply priceless).The film ends on a rather vague note, and consequently thanks to this and the complicated yet subtle internal conflicts within the four members, it could pass off as boring to many viewers unfamiliar with the band. Yet this is a documentary that will grow on you if you allow it and give it repeated viewings. LoudQUIETLoud maybe a little detached and distant in places, but it nevertheless remains a fascinating documentary capturing a legendary band that was determined to prove they still had it. And Steven Cantor and Mathew Galkin managed to more often than not capture those moments nakedly and gracefully. Will it be able to attract interest on people that never heard of the Pixies? Perhaps, although it’s highly recommended that people seek their albums first. Speaking of which, let’s hope that new album comes soon… in the meantime, see this flick. 4-5.
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