Weezer, Pixies take wildly different approaches to their back catalogs at Xcel

No matter how weez you are, these guys are Weezer.

No matter how weez you are, these guys are Weezer. Associated Press

On the surface, there are few better-paired touring partners than Weezer and Pixies.

Both bands started their careers with two records generally recognized as unimpeachable classics; both have endured complaints that they haven’t been worth listening to since their original bassists left. Hell, Rivers Cuomo’s initial vision for Weezer was to combine Pixies’ loud-quiet-loud formula with complex Beach Boys melodies.

And yet, the alt-rock giants’ co-headlining bill at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center Saturday night presented us with two strikingly disparate live acts. While Pixies seamlessly bounced between treasured warhorses and songs yet to be released, as confident playing a 30-year-old EP track that’s sung almost completely in Spanish (“Isla de Encanta”) as they did busting out an arena-ready anthem like “Monkey Gone to Heaven,” Cuomo and his group appeared hesitant to delve into any material that wouldn’t be instantly recognized by an overwhelming majority of the 10,000 fans in attendance.

Pixies—singer/guitarist Black Francis, lead axeman Joey Santiago, drummer David Lovering, and bassist Paz Lenchantin (who replaced the replacement for original four-stringer Kim Deal in 2014)—took the stage for their 75 minutes at 7:45 p.m., following a short but energetic opening set from U.K. rockers Basement. The opening salvo of “Cactus” (sample lyric: “Bloody your hands on a cactus tree/Wipe it on your dress and send it to me”) and “Nimrod’s Son” (“You are the son of incestuous union”) surely made any unassuming parents of tweens decked out in brand-new Weezer shirts wish they’d spent a little more time at the merch booth.

The Boston-bred band dispensed with two of their biggest songs, “Where is My Mind?” and “Here Comes Your Man,” soon thereafter, but the gig served as a showcase for material from their as-yet-untitled seventh album, due this fall, as much as anything else. Pixies tried out five new songs in all Saturday night, ranging from the ominous, bass-heavy “Graveyard Hill” to the wackily serene “Death Horizon.” Amongst 24 songs, the quartet also mixed in two of the best selections from 2016’s Head Carrier (“All the Saints” and “Classic Masher”), along with well-known numbers like “Gigantic” and “Wave of Mutilation” and fan-favorite deep cuts such as “Rock Music” and “Gouge Away.”

Pixies’ set felt like a carefully selected, career-spanning collection geared towards longtime listeners; Weezer’s performance stood in stark contrast. Their show leaned heavily on the geeky anthems of 1994’s Blue Album (yes, please!) and January’s Teal Album of note-for-note remakes of popular tunes (no, thanks!), eschewing all but the group’s biggest hits from the intervening quarter-century. In fact, March’s Black Album was the only one of five records released since 2010 represented Saturday night, and that was just one song. (“High as a Kite,” easily its best.)

Weezer’s merch offerings may have been themed around the pop grab-bag that is The Black Album, but this spring’s North American jaunt is in support of the covers grab-bag that is The Teal Album in every other way. A 10-song mid-set stretch included six songs by other artists, most notably their career-reviving rendition of Toto’s “Africa,” which gave Weezer its first pop hit in a decade and has apparently turned Cuomo into the world’s most famous karaoke singer. The 48-year-old also performed a-Ha’s “Take on Me” from the s.s. Weezer, a prop boat he used to travel to the other side of the arena, but a full-band, tongue-in-cheek take on TLC’s “No Scrubs” was the only time that one of the covers felt like anything more than a simple crowd-pleaser.

The Weezer that populated the heart of its set with so much non-original material felt like a completely different band than the one that kicked it off with five songs from their ‘90s masterpieces, Blue and Pinkerton. Following an entertaining barbershop quartet (complete with striped costumes) version of 2008’s “Pork and Beans” performed at the lip of the stage, Cuomo and his three bandmates (rhythm guitarist Brian Bell, bassist Scott Shriner, and drummer Pat Wilson) burst through the genius pop hits “Buddy Holly” and “Undone - The Sweater Song” and the nerd-rock torch songs “My Name is Jonas” and “Surf Wax America,” accompanied by a Happy Days-inspired backdrop right out of the “Buddy Holly” music video.

The climactic “Say It Ain’t So” served as a thrilling encore finale later in the night, while the sad-sack singalong “El Scorcho” was one of two Pinkerton cuts aired Saturday, joining an exquisite “Pink Triangle” in making St. Paul a very lucky crowd. (It’s not uncommon for Weezer to ignore their 1996 classic in concert, especially in recent years.)

The obscure, yet occasionally recognizable oeuvre of Pixies and the populist, throw-a-few-bones-to-the-hardcore-fans philosophy of Weezer. It’s such a strange marriage, but it made complete sense in tandem. Like they say, opposites attract.

Critic’s bias: I’ve been a shameless Weezer fanboy since 10th grade and regularly visit both Weezer message boards that somehow still exist in 2019. I loved their two recent comeback albums, 2014’s Everything Will be Alright in the End and 2016’s The White Album, and don’t much care for either color album released this year, but I’m happy for their continued success and it’s always worth it to go to a Weezer show for the Blue Album songs alone. Pixies are also one of my favorite bands of all-time, and join Bruce Springsteen and the Hold Steady on my short list of best live acts in the world. So, yeah, pretty fucking biased.


Nimrod’s Son
Where is My Mind?
Mrs. Mark of Cain
All the Saints
Here Comes Your Man
Death Horizon
Motorway to Roswell
(Unknown new song)
Gouge Away
Mr. Grieves
Graveyard Hill
Monkey Gone to Heaven
Classic Masher
Wave of Mutilation
Rock Music
Isla de Encanta
Saint Nazaire
Head On (Jesus & Mary Chain cover)

Pork and Beans
Buddy Holly
(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To
Surf Wax America
Undone - The Sweater Song
My Name is Jonas
El Scorcho
Everybody Wants to Rule the World (Tears for Fears cover)
High as a Kite
Paranoid (Black Sabbath cover)
Perfect Situation
Take on Me (a-Ha cover)
Up the Beach (Jane’s Addiction cover)
Hash Pipe
Africa (Toto cover)
Island in the Sun
No Scrubs (TLC cover)
Pink Triangle
Beverly Hills
Pork and Beans
Say It Ain’t So