The Pixies, those alt-rockers who thrived on sonic outbursts, the band whose quiet-loud-quiet-loud style influenced the grunge age, those folks who sang about the subbacultcha and who wanted to grow up to be a debaser, why, they've up and gone acoustic. Far out.
The band's been on quite a roll since their recent reunion, as anyone who's caught their concerts either live or in gleaming hi-def on cable can attest. The most unexpected chapter of this new era of the Pixies came in August 2005, when the group appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in Newport Rhode Island (this is where Dylan got booed for going electric all those years ago) for their first ever unplugged performance. This strange marriage, a festival known for a long history dealing with folk legends and a band who mixed alt-pop with serious electric grind, was captured by filmmaker Michael B. Borofsky for a concert film with the no-frills title "Pixies Acoustic: Live in Newport." It's a concert experience that is, if you'll pardon the horrible pun, quite electric.
Hearing the Pixies' hits stripped down shines new light on the material, which finds all new ways of grabbing you. All of their songs hold up, some with the same giddy abandon that drove their original versions ("Here Comes Your Man" refuses to get old), others revealing something truly incredible (their "Where Is My Mind?" finale is jaw-dropping). Tossed in as a bit of hat-tipping to the festival is a cover of an old prison folk tune, "Been All Around the World," with updated lyrics reflecting modern execution techniques. It's an unexpected bit of brilliance from a band willing to keep taking chances.
And they're having such a great time doing it. The group's lighthearted attitude is on full display - the clowning around in between songs shows a laid-back approach to the gig, as if they're content merely entertaining themselves. The strange juxtaposition of sunny New England day at the beach (complete with sailboats in the background) and dark, grungy rockers is not lost on the band, who joke with the audience about how they've "never jammed." (The sight of bassist Kim Deal scowling away, cigarette clutched between lips, all while the cool summer breeze and yuppie atmosphere surround her is a giddy vision indeed.)
The excitement of the show grows and grows with each song; the crowd, too fidgety at first, is left cheering like mad for the encore. "Pixies Acoustic" is a powerhouse concert movie, one that effortlessly captures the energy of the event and brings the performers truly alive. Longtime fans will be floored by new spins on old favorites, while newcomers may very well find this an excellent entry point, a more welcoming introduction to the Pixies' style, before all that guitar distortion gets in the way. Either way, prepare for some dynamite stuff.
"Bone Machine," "Cactus," "Ed Is Dead," "Been All Around the World," "Subbacultcha," "Monkey Gone To Heaven," "Is She Weird," "Here Comes Your Man," "River Euphrates," "Velouria," "Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf)," "I Bleed," "Crackity Jones," "Gouge Away," "Hey," "The Holiday Song," "Nimrod's Son," "Mr. Grieves," "Caribou," "Vamos," "Where Is My Mind?," and "Gigantic."
The highly impressive transfer here reminds us that this is not just some cheaply made concert video. The whole thing looks downright gorgeous, sparkling and crisp, making the most out of a beautiful day.
At first glance, the issue of a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer seems like a fault. But look closely, and you'll see that the aspect ratio varies between shots, with different cameras taking in images of different widths. It's nothing too distracting - nothing more than jumps between 1.66:1 and 1.78:1 or maybe 1.85:1, somewhere around there. (This is an eyeball estimate.) I'm guessing that it was probably easier for the filmmakers to just hard-matte everything instead of cropping a few sets of shots to match other sets. As such, we really do get a fuller picture, everything the individual cameras picked up that day.
This is a concert feature, and as such, the soundtrack gets the royal treatment it deserves. Choose between Dolby 5.1, Dolby 2.0, and DTS. They're all great in their own ways. I prefer the Dolby surround, which has a rich bass that lets Deal's work really boom. The stereo track seems a bit louder than normal, although there's no distortion to make that a problem. The DTS track finds a solid middle ground; not so much with the bass, but still quite full. No subtitles are included.
Wondering, like me, where the hell "Debaser" went? Wonder no more. A rehearsal documentary (the title card painfully misspells it as "accoustic sessions") follows the band as they prepare for their big day, including a run-through of the Coolest Song Ever (which sounds great unplugged, by the way) and a session where they try to get comfortable with "Been All Around the World." We also get select footage of a concert a few days before the Newport gig, where the band tried out their set in a bit of a self-described "dress rehearsal." At just over twenty minutes, we get a fulfilling peek at the band at work without repeating too much of the movie's material.
A four minute photo gallery, set to part of "Wave of Mutilation" and all of "I Bleed" is a pretty basic slide show of pics taken at the Newport.
An excerpt from "The Pixies: Club Date - Live at the Paradise in Boston" acts as a trailer for that DVD release, offering a delicious taste of "Debaser" in full rock-on mode, with gorgeous video that matches the aforementioned gleaming hi-def.
"Pixies Acoustic" is everything a music lover could want from a concert film, and its DVD presentation is magnificent in every regard. Highly Recommended, and be prepared to want to listen to every Pixies album all over again once you're through here.