Think Newport Folk Festival and what comes to mind? Pete Seeger, right? Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Joan Baez? Or, more recently, The Avett Brothers, Alison Krauss, Lucinda Williams? You’re definitely thinking Dylan, freaking out the folkies in '65 by plugging in his Strat. Are you thinking of the Pixies? No? Me neither. Probably one of the last bands I'd think of. And yet, the Pixies played the Newport Folk Festival, or—as Pixies frontman Frank Black jokes above—they went “reverse Dylan,” swapping their big amps and electric guitars for acoustics and a whole lot of low-key charm. Yes, it’s true, as Spin points out, that the festival has “a rich history of uniting disparate genres of music,” but to be honest, I wouldn’t have imagined an acoustic Pixies set, wouldn’t have thought such a thing were possible, had I not seen it in the “Acoustic Sessions” film above.
Yep, the band best known for quiet/LOUD dynamics and mutilating walls of sound rose to the folk challenge in 2005. Above, we get to see them rehearse in Hartford and take the stage in Albany for a dress rehearsal (where Black goes around and asks each member of the band if they are “scared”). They had only just reformed the previous year, after an eleven year hiatus during which it seemed we'd never hear from them again. Throughout the nineties, Singer Frank Black (or "Black Francis" in the Pixies heyday) had plenty to do with his Frank Black and the Catholics. Bassist/singer Kim Deal hit a rich vein of success with The Breeders and their massive hit “Cannonball.” While everyone pined for a Pixies reunion, few people expected it to happen (and when it did, for them to rock as hard and loud as they did). And maybe the last thing on anyone's mind was what’s happening above. The band seems pretty shocked themselves, especially Deal. In one exchange, Black says, “You know what acoustic means? Not too loud.” She responds drily, “I’d rather get shot in the face.”
But it’s fantastic! The songs come through crystal clear, just as tuneful, melodic, and strange as the first time you heard them blasting from your car stereo cassette deck (especially "Wave of Mutilation" at 14:00). And their off-the-cuff banter is priceless. Enjoy it, and Happy Friday.
Josh Jones is a writer, editor, and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness