Call him what you will — Charles Thompson, Black Francis or Frank Black. But as the frontman of the Pixies, ol' what's-his-name deserves a little praise. From 1985 to 1993 Black pulled lead singing and songwriting duties for America's preeminent alternative band — and is credited with bringing killer caterwauls, magnetic guitar hooks and paranoid, UFO-themed lyrics to the masses. The Pixies reigned over college radio and youth culture for a time, and the bands that followed in its sonic wake still hail the power of the quartet as a revelation. (Most famously, its loud/quiet/loud dynamic was claimed to be the sound inspiration for a blue-eyed, blond-haired guy fronting some band called Nirvana.)
Nashville singer-songwriter Bobby Bare Jr. counts himself among the Pixies' many fans. As the son of country musician Bobby Bare, he grew up around music and has the distinction of receiving a Grammy nomination at the age of five. First fronting the rock band Bare Jr. — and now as a solo artist churning out stripped-down, bittersweet compositions that push the envelope of alt-country — Bare has found genuine success throughout his entire career.
But for now, Bare has put all solo and future plans on pause in order to squeeze one more project into his busy schedule: His very own Pixies cover band, Is She Weird, Is She White. (Appropriately, it's currently touring with a Guided By Voices cover band, the Teenage FBI.) Bare's Pixies covers can sound much different than the originals, often changing the tempo or the tone of the songs — making these interpretations insightful, if not asking the audience to listen again with fresh ears.
Which begs the question: Why would Bare, a renowned solo artist and pedigreed musician, start a cover band? That scene is usually a schlocky, dirty world populated by balding has-beens and portly never-beens. Why would Bare take the chance of sullying his good name — and embrace another artist's music?
"Because the Pixies fuckin' rock!" Bare explains, enthralled.
And indeed, his love of Black Francis is well-documented. The lyrics to "Dig Down," a song found on Bare's first solo album, Young Criminals' Starvation League, include Francis in an exalted list of historical rock icons. Bare sings about all of the distinguished dudes who have used up all the soul and original ideas in the world of rock & roll, listing Francis in a pantheon of recognized legends including Pete Townshend, Jimi Hendrix, Chuck Berry and the Beatles.
When we catch up with Mr. Bare via phone, he seems honest and charmingly childlike, as though he can't contain any emotion — be it excitement or insecurity. He comes off as a hyperactive kid on a sugar high when talking about music that thrills him, and he's eager to relay fanboy stories of Frank Black and the Pixies (like a fantastic, "freaked out" moment when he sang background vocals on a recent Frank Black record). And of course, Bare's most eager to discuss his past and future work — and undying love for the Pixies.
Bobby Bare Jr.: I obviously have been a fan for a long, long, long, long time. Because it's like, I don't know, do you dress up for Halloween?
Jaime Lees: Oh, hell yeah.
It's exactly like dressing up for Halloween, for a musician. It's just fun to be somebody else.
How do you have time to get all of this done?
It's a whole lot of work. Usually for a real set you learn fifteen songs — like, for an hour [long] set. If you learn fifteen Pixies songs you've only learned 30 minutes worth of music. So, you know, we've got to learn twenty-something songs. And we do some Breeders songs.
What's your favorite to sing? Or what do you most look forward to?
What songs? The ones like "Gigantic," where I just play guitar. 'Cause I never, ever get to just play guitar in any band. So that's what's fun to me.
Are the people who come to the shows your fans? Or Pixies fans? Or a mix?
Um, I think they're just mostly Pixies fans. We've only done this in Nashville. This is going to be our first show out of town.
The St. Louis one is?
Yeah. We've only done probably four of these. It's me; the former drummer from [...And You Will Know Us By the] Trail of Dead [Doni Schroader]; and Beth Cameron, both of whom are also in a band called Forget Cassettes. And a girl named Leah [Paxton] who's been in bands with the other twopeople.
How did you get hooked up with the Guided By Voices tribute band?
It's other people who have been in my band. It's my drummer from my last tour who is also the drummer for Clem Snide [Ben Martin]. The guitar player is William Tyler; he's in Lambchop and the Silver Jews.
Did you go see any of their [Pixies] reunion tour shows?
Yes, I saw three of them. I played Sasquatch in Seattle and Austin City Limits in Austin where they were the headlining band....But they played the Ryman Auditorium [in Nashville] and that was the best show I've ever seen anybody do anywhere. Seeing them at a festival where there's 75,000 people was just OK, but at the Ryman it was transcendent.
Did you hear any of the new Breeders album yet?
No! When did it come out?
It didn't come out yet, but they leaked a single online last week.
Oh, wow. Is it good?
It's really good. It's sort of like, sleepy-time Breeders, you know? It's really pretty. They said that they're going to have a whole U.S. tour in the spring and do South By Southwest —
For the Breeders? Holy cow. Awesome. Isn't there supposed to be a Pixies album, too?
I don't know. No one ever gives a straight answer on that crap.
Do you think anybody will come out and see us?
Heck yeah. We're big here on fun shows...So are you gonna call yourself Bare Robert or something?
Naw, I'll just be Bobby.
9 p.m. Thursday, January 3. Off Broadway, 3509 Lemp Avenue. $10. 314-773-3363.