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New member means classic sound for Pixies

The Pixies (from left) include Paz Lenchantin, David Lovering, Joey Santiago and Black Francis. Photo courtesy of Travis Shinn / Special to The Forum1 / 2
The Pixies play Bluestem at 7 tonight. Photo courtesy of Travis Shinn / Special to The Forum2 / 2

MOORHEAD—Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.

When Kim Deal left the reunited Pixies in 2013, it threatened to break up the group. Again.

After a false start with another Kim (Shattuck, of The Muffs and The Pandoras), the group brought in singing/bassist Paz Lenchantin. The lineup stuck and the group released its sixth album, "Head Carrier," in late 2016, an album that sounds like it contains lost gems from the group's prime years in the late 1980s.

The band is indeed back and even better news for local fans, it is making its local debut tonight at Bluestem Amphitheater.

The Pixies became the poster child for alternative rock after exploding out of the Boston music scene in the late 1980s. Armed with an exciting mix of singer/guitarist Black Francis' nervous energy and Deal's sweet voice the group released influential songs like "Monkey Gone to Heaven," "Where Is My Mind," "Gigantic" and "Here Comes Your Man." Lead guitarist Joey Santiago solidified the sound creating atmosphere with ominous, haunting notes or frenetic string slashing while drummer David Lovering pushed everything along.

But after a five records, Francis announced in a 1993 interview that the Pixies were finished, though he failed to tell any of the other members they were through at the time.

After a decade of each member doing his or her own thing, the four reunited for a number of successful tours starting in 2004. They were prepared to record their first album since 1991 when Deal quit.

Saying the new disc fits right in with their best work is music to guitarist Joey Santiago's ears.

"Mission accomplished. That was the goal of it," he says while leaving a visit to the dentist in Los Angeles. "It doesn't feel any different, really."

But there is a big difference in the addition to what Lenchantin brought to the album.

"A lot. A lot of chops. A lot of one takes," he says with a laugh. "A lot of good input. Very positive energy."

While he's praising Lenchantin, some could see it as a swipe at Deal, who didn't even own a bass when she answered the band's ad looking for a bassist who liked the post-punk band Hüsker Dü and folkies Peter, Paul and Mary.

Santiago says when Deal left, it actually freed up the group to play around in the studio. While Deal and Francis (aka Frank Black and Charles Thompson, his birth name) could have a contentious relationship, that tension led not only to friction in the band, but part of the group's signature sound.

The 2006 documentary about the reunion tour, "loudQUIETloud: A Film About the Pixies," Francis tells a reporter that "tension" was the reason he disbanded the group in 1993. The documentary also features a number of people in and around the band commenting on how little they communicate.

"We could harness tension, even on this record," Santiago says. "We're adults. We have problems. We went through a lot of changes doing (this) record."

Lenchantin's addition to the lineup is one of them and while she takes over bass and harmonies, she sings lead on "All I Think About Now," a bittersweet tune she co-wrote with Francis about Deal's departure.

Lenchantin fills the void left by Deal, so much so that it seems she's just filling a role—the singing female bassist. Asked if a man could ever play bass in the Pixies, Santiago is clear.

"Nope," he says. "N.O."

The guitarist says he's "comfortable" with how "loudQUIETloud" turned out, but feels bad about some of what was captured.

"I pretty much threw David under the bus and he was going through a lot of personal stuff, and it may have seemed like I was not sympathetic towards him. He was going through major problems. His father was dying," Santiago says.

Lovering's father had cancer and died as the group was returning from a European tour. After that, he is seen drinking and talks about using drugs. In another scene Francis gets upset with the drummer mid-set and walks off stage, which is followed by a clip in which Santiago says Lovering is hurting himself with his intake.

In the movie, Santiago comes across as the most normal of the group, a claim he laughs at.

"Normal? You have no idea what's going on with me," he says. "That was just smoke and mirrors. At that time I was possibly the most normal one, which is indicative of how (messed) up we were. You put me in the outside world and I'm far from normal."

Santiago checked himself into treatment for alcohol and drug use last year just after "Head Carrier" was released.

He said life on the road is better now and already the group is looking to get back into the studio.

"We love recording. We're still in our creative run, here. And we're going to take advantage of it. I think everyone hit their stride on that last record. We're not going to give it up,' he says. "It's a great challenge and fun. It's the only time a band can entertain themselves. Live, the boss is the audience. In the studio it's like, 'Alright, let's see what we can come up with. Let's entertain ourselves. It's our turn, damnit.'"

If You Go

What: The Pixies

When: 7 tonight, gates open at 5

Where: Bluestem Center for the Arts, 801 50th Ave. S., Moorhead

Info: Tickets from $36.50 - $56.50., (866) 300-8300