“loudQUIETloud: A Film about the Pixies” chronicles their tense & ultimately triumphant return

By on May 4, 2017

loudQUIETloud: A Film about the Pixies — now streaming in our music documentaries section over on Night Flight Plus — chronicles the Pixies’ 2004 sold-out reunion tour, which came more than ten years after their acrimonious split in 1992, offering up a deeply compelling portrait of the four band members and their tense and ultimately triumphant return.

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Steven Cantor and Matthew Galkin’s 85-minute film — which premiered at the South by Southwest Film Festival in 2006 — captures the guitar-heavy Boston rockers, mostly ignored by the mainstream during their 1986 to 1993 heyday, in what some consider one of the best rock documentaries of all time.

In fact, five years ago, in 2012, Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood, in a Rolling Stone interview, cited loudQUIETloud: A Film about the Pixies as one of that band’s secret influences:

“I’ll tell you, if anyone wants to understand what it’s like to be in a band, is this Pixies’ documentary that Jonny brought in that we watched. That’s what it’s like, a group of people working in a close proximity for fifteen years together and going through a lot of emotion and stuff and essentially being people and coming out from the experience not to get too damaged from it and I thought that was very very very good. Really tender and accurate and I know some universal truths about it and not just about the Pixies.”

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This was the first directorial effort New York City-based filmmaker Matthew Galkin, who has executive produced a number of TV shows — CNN’s “Morgan Spurlock: Inside Man,” A&E’s “American Takedown” and others — including projects with co-director Steven Cantor.

Galkin has more recently directed a couple of award-winning HBO documentaries on his own, including 2010’s Kevorkian, about the controversial right-to-die advocate Dr. Jack Kevorkian and his ill-fated 2008 run for Congress, and I Am an Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA.

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Cantor, meanwhile, has directed quite a few documentaries during his career, including Dancer (2017) Chasing Tyson (2015), and What Remains (2007), in addition to producing quite a few films, such as STEP (2017), Devil’s Playground (2002), Reporter (2011) and Unraveled (2012).

Seven of his films have been nominated for Emmy Awards, with one winning, and he was nominated for an Academy Award for his first film.

Cantor and Galkin were working together on the HBO documentary series “Family Bonds” when the Pixies — who had broken up twelve years earlier — were announced as one of the headliners for the then-upcoming 2004 Coachella Music Festival.

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Their first reaction was to buy expensive Coachella passes but very quickly they realized that, since they were both filmmakers, they’d pitch the idea of making a Pixies documentary, following the band around on their just-announced seminal reunion tour, which would not just give them an all-access backstage pass to all their shows, but would give them the chance to get to know the band, one of their favorites.

By the way, Coachella tickets ended up selling out in four minutes, and the band ended up playing to some 60,000 fans out in the California desert heat.

The reunion tour that followed their successful show at Coachella was cheekily dubbed “Pixies Sell Out,” a reference to fact that not only were the announced shows selling out (in both the U.S. and Europe), but the band were also pretty aware that they were mainly doing it for the instant cash-in payout, and in effect “selling out.”

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Cantor and Galkin contacted the Pixies manager — described in this Indiewire interview as a “notoriously prickly and protective guy” — and found they were one of about fifteen other filmmakers who had also pitched the idea about making the film, but their pitch had the winning approach.

Cantor and Galkin were very clear, right from the start, about not wanting to make a VH1-ish “Behind the Music” archival-driven rock film, and instead wanted to make a documentary film that was as unobtrusive as possible, saying they were both influenced by the celebrated Cinéma vérité documentaries by D.A. Pennebaker and the Maysles.

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They told the four Pixies that they wanted to let them speak for themselves, and didn’t want to do talking head-style interviews with music historians, music critics, or other musicians that would offer validations or try to define the Pixies’ influence.

Because of this approach to letting the band tell their own story, loudQUIETloud starts off expecting the viewer to already be a fan of the Pixies, or at least know a little bit about the band, as there’s really not much background information or historical context provided by the filmmakers to let the audience know why they deserved to have their reunion tour documented.

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So here’s what you should probably know, going in: the Pixies were a really short-lived indie rock band (or college rock, if you prefer) who formed in 1986.

Singer and de facto frontman, the bulky, bald-headed Charles Thompson (also known as “Black Francis”), fiery bassist Kim Deal, lead guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering — who were described by one rock critic as “boring people who made extraordinary music” — debuted with a memorable EP of catchy tunes, their first of just a handful of what ended up being fine studio recordings.

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Their 1991 album Trompe le Monde brought to an end a four-album run that still stands the test of time.

Overall, their sound — melodic and abrasive, with cryptic, sometimes enigmatic lyrics — is still occasionally cited as being very influential, most notably by some of their contemporaries, including early 90s-era grunge rockers like Nirvana.

In fact, loudQUIETloud begins with a quote by Kurt Cobain, who told Rolling Stone in 1994 that his band’s most famous song, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” was his attempt at “… basically trying to rip off the Pixies.”

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The Pixies dissolved in acrimony in 1992 and officially parted ways in ’93 due to continuing friction between Thompson and co-lead singer Kim Deal (who also fronts the Breeders with her identical twin sister Kelley).

The film begins at a crucial time for Kim, who was just out of drug and alcohol rehab; in the documentary, when she’s asked what she’s most proud of since the Pixies broke up, she surprisingly says, “It’s been over a year since I’ve done any drugs or drinking.”

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One of the other issues she has seems to be that she can’t seem to remember how to play the band’s old songs, and has to resort to listening to their songs on her iPod in order to get the chord changes right, memorizing the original bass parts she’d played all those years earlier.

She ends up asking her sister to join the tour in order to distract her from being on the road with her former bandmates, who are still partying it up.

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Meanwhile, drummer David Lovering is dealing with his own issues, devastated by his father’s recent death and also dealing with a Valium addiction that nearly derails the tour (he suffers a public meltdown during a concert in Chicago).

Only Deal and Thompson have managed to sustain viable solo careers, post-breakup: Thompson keeps busy with a record label, Frank Black Records, while Deal keeps busy with the Breeders.

Joey Santiago, meanwhile, has been focused scoring an independent movie, while drummer Lovering practices his magic act.

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None of the band members try to hide their subtle love/hate for one another, which may be one reason, among many, that the film’s title may possibly have at least two meanings (or a third meaning, if you buy the idea that loudQUIETloud could also refer to the band’s path from popularity to obscurity and back to popularity again).

Not only were the Pixies’ songs built upon a “loud chorus/quiet verse/loud chorus” framework, but it could also describe the somber non-communication once the band members have stepped off the stage, the explosive moments typically followed by quieter, more reflective moments for awhile before another confrontational argument erupts.

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Cantor and Galkin were there to capture it all happening, or not happening, giving a lot of space to the band to express themselves however they saw fit.

We find out that all four — who each had their own hotel rooms on the tour — rarely communicated with each other once they’d played a show, and seemed to content to do so, from their first rehearsal right up through the last night of their tour and their final show at New York City’s Hammerstein Ballroom.

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The documentary — which also features soundtrack music by Daniel Lanois — mixes both beautifully-photographed live concert footage, home movies and revealing, off-stage and backstage bantering and occasional scenes of drama, each member weighing in separately on what it was like to go back out on tour with the band after more than a decade apart.

While there are no real meltdowns, it’s pretty clear that they seem to function better separately than they do as a cohesive rock unit, and by all indications, they wouldn’t spend much time with each other if it weren’t for the tour itself.

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“In the history of modern American music there are few bands like the Pixies,” it says on the band’s DVD box, saying for us what probably can’t be said any better. “Theirs was an unparalleled musical path, influencing countless others despite modest financial success.”

Watch loudQUIETloud: A Film about the Pixies and other music documentaries over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, assistant editor for the When You Awake blog, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.