The Pixies’ “Doolittle” has done a lot since it came out in 1989.
It’s the iconic alternative rock quartet’s best seller, the only one of its four studio albums to be certified platinum. It contained the group’s biggest hits — “Here Comes Your Man” and “Monkey Go to Heaven,” both Top 5 on the Billboard Modern Rock chart — and was ranked the second greatest album of all time by Britain’s New Musical Express and No. 226 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
And there’s enough appetite for the 15-song set that the Pixies have spent the past couple of years playing “Doolittle” in its entirety on the road.
“It’s just been going great,” reports drummer David Lovering. “It’s one of our best, and one of the ones that people accept as being supposedly a classic album. And we’re still hitting places we haven’t hit yet. People have been waiting to hear it and asking us to come to their cities to do it, and we have a lot of fun with it so why not?”
Guitarist Joey Santiago, meanwhile, says the staying power of “Doolittle” is not surprising.
“I thought it was going to be good back when we recorded it” with producer Gil Norton, he explains. “I thought it would be well-received. We did it the old-fashion way where we played it live prior to going into the studio with it. We would tweak it out at practices, see what went down, see what didn’t go down, live-wise, then pick it apart some more. We were really prepared by the time we got it into the studio.”
Nevertheless, Santiago adds, the commercial success was somewhat surprising — and even off-putting to the point that for a time the Pixies would not perform “Here Comes Your Man” in concert.
“We just refused to play it live,” Santiago, 45, recalls. “We even turned down TV shows because that’s all they wanted us to play. We were known as this band that did ‘Here Comes Your Man,’ and we felt at the time that it didn’t exemplify our overall sound. The album is very varied; that’s one of the styles on the album, and the rest is this screaming, atonal noise.
“Perhaps we should have embraced (the song’s commercial appeal). It’s hard to say. We just didn’t want to have people get the wrong impression.”
The “Doolittle” dates, meanwhile, are the latest chapter in the Pixies’ ongoing but somewhat low-key reunion activities.
Formed during 1986 in Boston, the group — which also includes frontman Black Francis (aka Frank Black, aka Charles Thompson) and bassist Kim Deal — was saluted by Spin magazine as “the first alternative rock band” and stayed together until 1992, when it broke up amid burn-out and internal dissension. Relationships were so frayed that Black Francis notified his bandmates he was leaving by fax.
But the Pixies’ legacy remained. The late Kurt Cobain confessed that he “was trying to rip off the Pixies” in Nirvana’s hit “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and legions of groups that came in their wake have paid homage to the band over the years. The group’s 2004 reunion, inspired by “a sarcastic remark” Black Francis made during a British radio interview, was a hot ticket, and the Pixies have spent the past seven years working together off and on — even getting a Grammy Award nomination for the packaging of its 2009 box set “Minotaur.”
“We’re amazed that we’ve been together longer now than we were as an original band,” Lovering, 49 — who’s also a professional magician known as the Scientific Phenomenalist — says with a laugh. “We’re also amazed that people are still wanting to see us. I think we’re very fortunate to be out there and doing shows where there’s a demand for us, even though we haven’t had new material since way long ago.”
The drummer adds that the Pixies members are more adept at dealing with each other and the demands of the band than they were during the first incarnation of their career.
“We have a different take on it now,” Lovering explains. “When we were first touring around the world and stuff, it was great. But now, having these years between and getting to do it over again, you have a lot more appreciation for it. You’re older and wiser, and we can do it and not worry about the next album or anything like that. So I think we’re just having a great time.”
The Pixies’ future remains something of an open book. Lovering says the group might tour to play its 1988 debut “Surfa Rosa” — “The second on our list of the best Pixies albums we’ve ever had,” he notes — in its entirety. But there’s also talk of making new music, the Pixies’ first since 1991’s “Trompe le Monde.”
“That’s still up in the air,” Lovering says. “We’ve been talking about this for about three years now, actually. I don’t know if it will come to fruition; I’m waiting and waiting to see what will happen. All I can say is if there is one, it better be good. We’d really have to work at it.”
Santiago says the Pixies are waiting for “some kind of spark” to encourage them to get serious about a new album. “We’re waiting for that, like, ‘a-ha!’ moment,” he explains. “I’m already there. It’s just a matter of timing and everything aligning.
“There’s days where I think it could happen and other days I go, ‘(It’s never gonna happen.’ I guess there’s a little pressure from the legacy thing. Sure there is. But I don’t think there’s any preconceived thing that anyone could expect us to do. The possibilities are pretty wide open, I’d say, so it would be nice to get in there and see what we could do now.”
The Pixies perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 22, at the Fox Theatre, 2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit. Tickets are sold out. Call 313-471-6611 or visit www.olympiaentertainment.com.
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