This week, the Pixies are playing Roseland Theater. The band is not what they once were live. Frank Black qualifies for an AARP membership, and there's no Kim Deal.
Nonetheless, this tour is an important warm-up. Earlier this month, the Pixies announced a big summer tour with Weezer. The double-headliner tour makes a lot of sense, as both bands employ lots of power chords, poppy hooks and dynamic volume swings.
Maybe it's a quirk of the Facebook algorithm, but when that tour was announced, my feed populated with rage-filled posts from Pixies fans who were scandalized that Frank Black's band is not the main headliner. That's an odd argument given Weezer has sold seven times as many records, but hey.
Here's the thing: Anything the Pixies can do, Weezer can do better. Anything. To prove it, I dug through Rivers Cuomo's massive trove of album cuts, b-sides and leaked demos to unearth obscurities that are better than the Pixies' best songs.
1. If you like "Wave of Mutilation," try "Only in Dreams"
The Pixies' best song—the one that gave its title to the band's greatest-hits compilation—is a slow-burner with darkly absurd lyrics. "Wave of Mutilation" is also definitive proof that people who discount Kim Deal's slinky bass lines do not fully understand the purpose of bass guitar in rock music. This presents a challenge that's only matchable with a less-obscure-than-preferable Weezer song in the same mold. "Only in Dreams," the epic eight-minute closer of the Blue Album has an even better bass line, also juxtaposed with whispered vocals and crashing refrains. Both songs have one weird, stilted line that somehow worms its way into your brain forever ("could find my way to Mariana" and "molecules of oxygen and carbon dioxide," respectively). Now, try imagining how bored you would be if "Wave of Mutilation" went on for eight minutes.
2. If you like "Debaser," try "Blast Off!"
"Blast Off!" is the opener of Songs from the Black Hole, the unreleased space opera that was supposed to be Weezer's sophomore album. "Debaser" is the opener of Doolittle, the Pixies' sophomore effort and also their best-selling and best-reviewed album. Cuomo recorded most of Songs from the Black Hole at his mom's house in Connecticut. The rough audio quality should appeal to Pixies fans, though Doolittle was released by a major label and got a big-time budget, equivalent to $95,000 in today's money.
3. If you like "Where Is My Mind?," try "Tragic Girl"
Frank Black's best attribute as a musician is an ear for pleasing oddities. His best work came when he layered snippets of off-kilter guitar and woo-ooo's to turn a stupidly simple pop song like "Where Is My Mind?" into an impressive piece of songcraft. Cuomo tends to use his other talents, but a song like "Tragic Girl," which was recorded during the Pinkerton sessions and shelved until 2010, shows Cuomo also has an aptitude for collaging crunchy guitars.
4. If you like "Velouria," try "Jamie"
These two songs are similar in tone and pace. Frank Black wrote the anthemic "Velouria" about a Renaissance-era cultural movement that looked for wisdom in the ancient esoteric. "Jamie," the b-side to "Buddy Holly," was written about Weezer's lawyer. It's actually one of two songs the band wrote about their lawyer. The other, the Matt Sharp-penned "Mrs. Young," can be found online in acoustic demo version. That song later became the Rentals' "Please Let That Be You." Both of the Weezer songs (and the Rentals song) are better than "Velouria."
5. If you like "Here Comes Your Man," try "The Organ Player"
Black wrote a beautiful little Velvet Underground-y groove here—this is a pure piece of pop magic with no gimmicky distortion needed, and it's my personal favorite Pixies track. "The Organ Player" could pass for a Ben Folds song, about a righteous organ player who fends off the bad vibes of a bitter fan. I really like it. If you don't, check out one of the other 40 demo songs from Weezer's Album 5 demo sessions, featuring lots of storytelling and keys scrapped to make room for Make Believe, the album with "Beverly Hills," which revived Cuomo as a top-40 force.
6. If you like "Alec Eiffel," try "Mykel and Carli"
"Alec Eiffel" is a pop-punk song about the guy who made the tower in Paris. "Mykel and Carli" is an ode to two sisters who ran Weezer's fan club who were killed in a car accident while traveling to see the band. One song is smug faux-intellectualism. The other is deep anguish with a candy coating.
See Related: Death to the Pixies.
SEE IT: The Pixies play Roseland Theater, 8 NW 6th Ave., with the Orwells, on Wednesday-Friday, Nov. 29-Dec. 1. 8 pm. All shows sold out. All ages.