No Deal, but Pixies find 'floaty' clarity

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If you go

What: The Pixies, in concert.

When: 8 p.m. Feb. 19.

Where: Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 S.W. Broadway, Portland.

Cost: Sold Out.

Information: 800-273-1530 or http://portland5.com

The hopes of many fans for new Pixies music began to get answered last summer when the group released a single, "Bagboy" and then in the fall followed up with a four-song release titled simply "EP-1."

Now the Pixies have doubled the fun, with a second four-song collection, "EP-2," As with its predecessor, there was no advance fanfare for the new EP. It was simply made available for purchase through the Pixies' website on Jan. 3.

These releases marked the first new music (other than a 2004 one-off single, "Bam Thwok") from the influential group, which reunited in 2004 and had gone on to do a series of well received tours. During that time, the question of whether the reunion would produce new music always hung over the Pixies.

As it turns out, on at least two occasions, singer guitarist and songwriter Black Francis, guitarist Joey Santiago, drummer Dave Lovering and bassist Kim Deal tried to the find magic that produced an EP and four studio albums from 1987 to 1991 (including two of the most influential albums in alternative rock history — "Surfer Rosa" and "Doolittle").

But those sessions, in 2007 and 2011, failed.

So what happened to enable the Pixies to create their first substantial batch of new material after eight years? Francis, in an early December interview, summed up a big part of the answer in two words: Gil Norton.

The producer of three of the band's original albums, "Doolittle" (1989), "Bossanova" (1990) and "Trompe Le Monde" (1991), Norton was brought in by the band in 2012, in hopes he could resolve the obstacles that had doomed the earlier efforts at songwriting and recording.

In particular, Norton helped Francis reconnect with his inner Pixie by getting him to get "back to basics" in his songwriting.

"I think when you first start to write songs, there is a little bit of naivete and there's a lot of simplicity," Francis said. "With naivete and simplicity comes kind of a strength and a clarity. And it isn't that you're supposed to stay there necessarily or never become more sophisticated or more complicated or anything like that. But it must be noted that there is this clarity and simplicity with your early work. And I think that Gil was just trying to get me to try to return to that as much as I could, because that's what the band needed.

"They needed some songs that were simpler," the man whose real name is Charles Thompson said. "And by simpler, I don't mean necessarily easier to play. I mean in terms of the types of chords and the number of chords and the way they transition into each other, that kind of thing. … In general, there's this kind of a floaty clarity that he was trying to get me to connect with. That's what he was trying to get me to do, and I just tried to satisfy it."

Things seemed to be falling into place until last summer when Deal abruptly quit the band.

She has not commented publicly about her departure, which doesn't surprise Francis. But the frontman said the new Pixies music may well have had a lot to do with Deal deciding to leave the group.

"We thought we had finally won her over in terms of convincing her to do new music," Francis said. "I guess we had; but I think, whatever, our interpretation of it was we were going to be doing a much larger body of work. And I think her interpretation of it was, 'Hey, I didn't know there was going to be so much involved.' And I can't really speak for her. I can only, I've got my theories. I think that, probably, she just didn't want to commit to it."

Francis, Santiago and Lovering briefly considered pulling the plug on the Pixies, but with a group of songs in hand that they liked, they recruited PJ Harvey bassist Simon "Ding" Archer to record new bass parts on the songs that have surfaced on "EP-1" and "EP-2."

Then the Pixies brought in former Muffs and Pandoras bassist Kim Shattuck for touring last year.

Shattuck, though, was dismissed recently, with Paz Lenchatin (known for her work in A Perfect Circle) brought in for this winter's U.S. tour -- and perhaps beyond. Francis said the band simply decided to try a new bassist -- no big story.

What is a big story is "EP-2," which is actually stronger than the first EP. It includes "Blue Eyed Hexa," a rocker whose sharp riffs and thump may remind fans of the earlier song "U-Mass." "Magdelina" pulls back on some of the voltage, going more for the kind of space-age atmosphere and disarming melody of tunes like "Is She Weird." The poppier side of the Pixies sound is even more evident on "Greens And Blues" (think "Monkey Gone To Heaven"). "Snakes" finishes "EP-2" on more of a rocking note, its brisk acoustic guitar and driving beat powering the song.

Francis said the songs from "EP-1" and "EP-2" are getting played live, but the set lists tend to vary depending on what is clicking with the audience and the band at the time.

"On the one hand, we try to please the audience," he said. "But also if it's a song that the audience doesn't react strongly to and we don't react strongly to it, it has a good chance of being retired. If an audience doesn't respond to a particular song in a big way, but the band, or at least me, really, responds to the song for some reason and we still like it, it won't get played as much as the big songs, but it will still get played from time to time because someone in the band really likes it. And if it's a song that the audience always responds really well too, then of course, the same thing, it will get played, if not all the time, it will get played sometimes."