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August 1, 2014

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Review: Pixies take on the Joint with renewed ferocity

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Erik Kabik / Retna / ErikKabik.com

Pixies at the Joint on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas.

Pixies at the Joint

Pixies at the Joint on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Best Coast at the Joint

Best Coast at the Joint on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014, in Hard Rock Hotel Las Vegas. Launch slideshow »

Pixies aren’t big on small talk. In fact, from the moment frontman Black Francis and Co. took the stage at the Joint in the Hard Rock Hotel on Sunday night, no word of banter was spoken for the duration of their 2-hour-and-33-song set.

It’s not that there isn’t much to say. In the three years since the band last played the Joint — performing 1989’s seminal “Doolittle” in its entirety — they’ve released two EPs (their first new music since 1991) with a third on the way, while beloved founding bassist and vocalist Kim Deal split from the band last summer.

But with a decade under their belt since first reuniting, Pixies aren’t interested in another nostalgia-laden victory lap, but rather proving that they’re here to stay. And when it comes to their brand of lean, ferocious indie punk, it’s best to let the music speak for itself.

Casual fans or those who came expecting the hit-laden set of their “Doolittle” tour were likely frustrated by the evening’s song selection, as the band cast aside crowd-pleasing in favor of digging deep into their catalog. But for the devoted, or at least those forgiving of Deal’s absence, the reward was a rich set that culled from Pixies’ full-length albums, two new EPs, an obscure cover and an unreleased song.

Touring bassist Paz Lenchantin (of Zwan and A Perfect Circle) did well to fill Deal’s shoes on the bass, though her reserved performance (and eschewing of Deal-sung tunes like “Gigantic”) suggested a sensitivity and respect for her absence. Lenchantin’s vocals are deeper and less confident than Deal’s, and while they can’t replicate the chemistry between Francis and her, they delivered nicely on songs like “Here Comes Your Man” and “Where Is My Mind.”

Deal or no Deal, Pixies forge on: They’re one of the rare bands whose individual members bring a distinct personality and sound to the group, and it’s easy to imagine fans riled up over any of them quitting.

Onstage, drummer David Lovering charmed with his mischievous punk-waltz stylings at the kit (not to mention his lead vocals on “La La Love You”). Joey Santiago remains a mad scientist on guitar, playing with the live jack of his amp cable during the cacophonous “Vamos.” And then, of course, there’s Francis, whose croon-howl sounds as vicious and unhinged as when it was first unleashed on 1987’s “Come on Pilgrim” EP.

The band remains an untamed beast, in its technical prime with a setlist that changes nightly (on this night, Best Coast served as the opening act). While fan favorites like “Debaser,” “I Bleed” and “Monkey Gone to Heaven” were left out Sunday night, the crowd was treated to old-school tracks like “Nimrod’s Son,” “I’ve Been Tired” and a crushing extended cover of “In Heaven (The Lady in the Radiator Song)” from David Lynch’s “Eraserhead.”

New songs — “Blue Eyed Hexe,” “Magdalena,” “Indie Cindy” and the unreleased “Silver Snail” — blended seamlessly into the set, showcasing the band’s uncanny ability to pick up their sound where it left off more than 20 years ago. “Indie Cindy” perhaps captures that spirit best, a staggering, Bowie-kissed tune that neither replicates nor redefines Pixies’ sound, but continues exploring the polarity of mania and bliss at the heart of their music.

It’s a skill few bands attempting a new career phase posses, and what makes this moment for Pixies not a comeback but a next step in their ongoing evolution.

Follow Andrea Domanick on Twitter at @AndreaDomanick and fan her on Facebook at Facebook.com/AndreaDomanick.

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