The Pixies Haven’t Lost Their Magic

it’s been a long time since they’ve used a set list. The members know what the first and last songs will be each night. As for the rest — they wing it.

From left: Paz Lenchantin, David Lovering, Black Francis, Joey Santiago (Travis Shinn)

In 2014, Boston alt-rockers The Pixies released Indie Cindy, the first album of new material since 1991’s Trompe le Monde and since the split that famously followed. That’s 23 years between albums, and their fans were hungry. The band reunited in 2003 and toured like crazy. But 10 years after that, bassist and fan-favorite Kim Deal left the group.

The timing wasn’t great; the Pixies had a European tour booked, and Indie Cindy was in the works. Pandoras/Muffs bassist Kim Shattuck stepped in to help fulfill those tour dates, while Simon “Dingo” Archer of the Fall played on most of Indie Cindy. New permanent player Paz Lenchantin (A Perfect Circle, Zwan) joined in time to play on “Women of War” and some bonus tracks.

Last year’s Head Carrier album, the second since the reunion, is Lenchantin’s full debut, and it’s fantastic. She’s formed an excellent rhythm section with drummer Dave Lovering, helping the songs retain the barbed-wire sweetness of the old Pixies sound, but adding some fresh energy. Lovering is delighted to have Lenchantin onboard.

“She’s wonderful,” Lovering says. “It’s interesting, because I’ve played with Paz for a number of years before we did Head Carrier, and she was just copying what we had done in the past. But Paz is a wonderful player. She plays so well that she makes me play better, because I don’t want to be embarrassed around her. Also, just being Paz herself, getting along with everybody. Even though Paz has been playing with us for almost five years, she’s still the new woman to Charles (Black Francis), Joe (Santiago) and myself. Because of that, we’re still walking on eggshells and behaving like gentlemen. It’s making everybody get along really well.”

It’s been over a year since the release of Head Carrier, which isn’t really a huge amount of time in Pixies terms. Still, Lovering says that the quartet, with Lenchantin fully acclimated, are thinking about the next one.

“I think we always are,” he says. “We got over the trepidation of doing Indie City — that was a little tough because it had been a long time and we knew everyone was going to judge it. But once we got done with that, I think we were already thinking of Head Carrier. This is just what we like to do, and it’s not scary anymore. We’re speaking about it. Hopefully onward and forward.”

Both records received a warm if not exactly combustible reception from fans and critics. Frankly, that’s probably as good as they could hope for. The records are great, but fans are precious about the Pixies and, if it’s not Surfa Rosa or Doolittle-good, there are those that will feel let down.

“People like them, some people don’t — it’s fine,” says Lovering. “We’re all happy doing it. It pleases us so it’s all good. With Head Carrier, I find that this one is translating better live with the rest of the songs in the set. For me, being a drummer and being high up at the back, I get a good view of when people leave for the restroom, so it’s been working pretty well.”

When Lovering isn’t sitting high and observing crowds worldwide while wowing us with his tub-thumping expertise, he’s wowing smaller audiences with magic. A keep magician, Lovering was part of the magic trio The Unholy Three, and he had his own show called The Scientific Phenomenalist. He used to perform regularly at the Magic Castle in L.A. while living there, but the workload of the Pixies has built to the point that he’s had to dial down the wizardry.

“I’m just doing social, close-up magic,” he says. “After the show, in a restaurant, just sitting around. But that’s fine. The intimate magic is a little more powerful than having a stage show, or something big and theatrical. The science show was just a big undertaking, and the Pixies have been kind of busy for the last couple of years, as well as having two kids. It just makes it a little tough. And I should say that the Pixies pays a little better than being a magician at a kid’s birthday party.”

With that said, the Pixies, as the name suggests, are nothing if not magic, and the band is full of neat tricks. For example, it’s been a long time since they’ve used a set list. The members know what the first and last songs will be each night. As for the rest — they wing it.

“From years of doing it, we have hand signals and we can speak to each other with our in-ear monitors,” Lovering says. “It’s nice, it makes it interesting, and it keeps it on the fly. Sometimes, you may not have the perfect show. Sometimes it goes up and down perfectly, and sometimes it doesn’t happen that way because we’re just winging it. We don’t stop, we don’t talk – we’re not trying to be antisocial, it’s just 90 minutes of music. Bang, bang, bang.”

On Thursday, Dec. 7, the Pixies return to the Bay Area for a show at the Fox Theater in Oakland. Lovering is glad to be back, though he admits that he tends to pack and plan badly for these parts at this time of the year.

“I own so many Levi dungaree jackets just because of my trips to San Francisco,” he says. “The reason I say that — I’ve been living in California for 27 years but every time I go to San Francisco I think it’s warm there. So I don’t pack accordingly. That’s why I own so many dungaree jackets from going to San Francisco. However, San Francisco always does a good breakfast.”

After this tour, the Pixies have a break for the holidays, but Lovering says that they’ve been messing with new songs in soundcheck so hopefully they won’t be away for long. And then there are those recently-announced dates with Weezer next summer.

“That’ll be a fun tour — it’s amphitheaters and it’ll be a fun tour for the summer,” Lovering says. “The only problem with amphitheaters is that you’re not in the city, you’re always out in the suburbs somewhere. It may be a lot of sticks that we’re playing, but it’ll be fun.”

The Pixies play with The Frights, Thursday, Dec. 7 , 8 p.m., at the Fox Theater; 1807 Telegraph Ave., Oakland. $59.50-$79.50; 510-302-2250 or foxtheateroakland.com.

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