The Pixies have just played their signature anthem, "Where is My Mind." As the crowd begs for an encore, Black Francis stands alone at center stage, an uncharacteristic grin spread across his usually enigmatic features.
Guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering are already heading for the wings, while their new touring bassist, Kim Shattuck, slips into the crowd, eager to shake hands with rabid fans.
The Pixies are in the midst of headlining a series of sold-out club dates and festival appearances in support of "EP-1," their first collection of new music in 22 years. It's also their first tour without original bassist Kim Deal, whose departure from the quartet was announced in June. Despite some tensions in the past, her decision blindsided her bandmates.
"She just said, 'I'm leaving on the next flight tomorrow,' " recalls Charles Thompson IV, aka Black Francis. "And so there was nothing really to say. We just said, 'OK.' It was just as simple and as basic as that."
And so America's beloved indie rock band embarked on a new chapter of its storied career.
Bursting out of the Boston underground in the late '80s with an irresistible yin-yang of brash guitars and dreamy popscapes, the Pixies imploded before they could hit the big time -- but not before laying the sonic groundwork for such alternative acts as Nirvana and Radiohead.
With great fanfare, the Pixies reunited in 2004 for a world tour -- a triumphant victory lap that somehow stretched into a whopping seven-year run. Aging hipsters and musically precocious twentysomethings welcomed the return of "Debaser," "Here Comes Your Man" and other favorites, but it also left them yearning for fresh material.
They got it with "Bagboy," a surprise single that bombarded unsuspecting inboxes as a free download in late June. In early September, four additional songs hit the Web, this time in a package generically titled "EP-1." And there's more on the way.
CNN gets the backstory in a rooftop conversation with Thompson, Santiago and Lovering before a recent show in Los Angeles. They share how they turned Santiago's hotel room into a secret recording studio, open up about the departure of Kim Deal and give a progress report on her replacement, Kim Shattuck (from the Los Angeles pop-punk trio The Muffs).
CNN: Ever since your 2004 reunion, fans were hoping for some new music. Rumor has it that was kicked into gear when the Pixies were in Canada headlining at a casino, and didn't want to be thought of as an oldies act.
David Lovering: In Canada, those are the venues. It's not that we became a casino band, but it was almost equating us to that. Blue Oyster Cult, oh no! So that was just a good impetus to think, "OK, we've got to do something."
CNN: When the new music came out on your website, did you read the comments?
Charles Thompson (aka "Black Francis"): I think I read the comments. Our Twitter feed is probably where I get most of my online satisfaction, as far as people blogging or commenting about things.
Joey Santiago: I look at the comments. I like the negative ones. It's like when I'm buying Amazon stuff. I look at the negative reviews. But they're just judging a book by its cover, really -- that a member is gone, and what's that got to do with "Bagboy?"
CNN: Was Kim Deal's leaving unexpected?
Lovering: It was a shock, because she was along on the journey with us.
Santiago: She was enthusiastic, and then that bomb hit one day.
CNN: Did she tell you in person?
Thompson: Yeah. We used to go to get a coffee in the village, the little town that we were recording near. Everyone would go there looking for their coffee, so inevitably, one, or two, or three or four band members would be there. We were there, and she just said, "I'm leaving on the next flight tomorrow."
And so, you know, there was nothing really to say. We just said, "OK." It was just as simple and as basic as that.
CNN: Did she give a reason, or indicate that she might be back at some point?
Thompson: I think when someone makes a big decision like that, it takes a lot of guts to kind of tell the people that you have to tell face-to-face, which is what she did.
I know that when the band broke up the first time around, I sort of broke up the band, but I didn't have the guts to do that. I had to send a message and hope for the best, because it feels like a confrontation, or you feel embarrassed, or you don't want to let people down, you know what I mean?
You know they're going to be disappointed, so I think it probably took a lot of guts for her to personally go, "I'm out," and not just do it in an email.
CNN: Has she heard the new music?