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They heart Pixies

Fans give it up at the concert of their dreams

It's not unusual for fans of a band to say they're in love with it. And it's not unusual to get "married," so to speak, to the idea of what a group will be like in concert. So proposing to your girlfriend in a sold-out venue, though relatively atypical, perhaps isn't the most unfathomable thing to do. In fact, there it was in front of me, 19 rows back, center, at the Pixies show Wed., Oct. 13 — a couple getting engaged, embracing as the houselights dimmed on the first of two shows played at the fabulous Fox Theatre.

Thinking back on the act, it seemed to represent how momentous the concert was for the many in attendance. Highly influential, yet in many ways unjustly unsung during its 1986-1992 run, Boston's Pixies forged a template of searing hushed-to-rabid dynamics that acted as the foundation for the '90s' "alternative nation." And the quartet's rancorous break-up — long rumored to have been delivered from lead singer/guitarist Frank Black (Francis) by fax — was equally passive-aggressive, leaving the impression that a reunion would be little more than a crack pipe dream.

Here, however, under a fresco of blue skies, standing, cheering fans — and a couple of briefly preoccupied seated to-be-weds — gathered for what they once thought they'd never see. So the big question was, could the reality bear such weight?

For the most part, it did. With little fanfare but plenty of fan response, Frank Black, bassist Kim Deal, guitarist Joey Santiago and drummer David Lovering took to the stage in front of three generations of music fans, backed by nothing but a scrim and dervish lighting arranged like hives dangling from barren birch trees. Awash in splotches of opalescent light — as supersaturated as those in a film by Italian horror director Dario Argento — the Pixies ran, trotted, sauntered and reared through an unfettered hour-and-a-half set spanning the band's five releases.

Admittedly, the first songs — including "Wave of Mutilation (U.K. Surf Version)" and Neil Young's "Winterlong" — were tentative, almost as if they were trying to figure out how to play to the crowd. But by the time "Gouge Away," "Debaser," "Head On," "Caribou" and "U-Mass" bellowed forth, it was like the Pixies were yelling to the wind. They played hard, and the zealous crowd roared back its approval.

All band members delivered the material with grace if not gusto. Only Lovering ever seemed to get lost in the pocket, overcome with rambunctious energy. Deal placed a close second, yelping and swaying like an exuberant toddler. And "Nimrod's Son," "Crackity Jones," "Broken Face" and "Vamos" cartwheeled manically before the band crested back into the cooing set closer "Where Is My Mind?"

For the encore, the Pixies reprised the original "Wave of Mutilation" before closing with "Gigantic," a song that swelled so large that it seemed to evoke both the band's legacy and the audience's massive expectations. As Deal belted the chorus line, "A big, big love," you felt it.