He’s a man of many monikers and moods, and he rocks under any name. Charles Thompson / Frank Black / Black Francis has 23 albums to his credit, beginning in 1988 with Surfer Rosa by the Pixies, a band where the tired journalistic cliché “seminal” actually applies.
Black Francis performs tonight with Reid Paley at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, 9 p.m.
As for his large assemblage of driving, quirky-cool thought-rock, Thompson is modest: “I don’t know how prolific I am, I just make a record a year or so. It’s what I’m supposed to do, isn’t it? Make music. Play music. I love making records. Sometimes I edit. Sometimes I don’t.” Over the decades he’s had reviews that range from rave to well, not so, but the man who marvelously covered the Beach Boys’ “Hang On To Your Ego,” is judicious. “You think you’re losing it ’cause some reviewers don’t get it,” he muses. “Time passes and things change. No one was over the moon about Teenager of the Year when it came out. When it gets referenced now it gathers many more compliments. It’s OK. A critic is supposed to be critical. Sometimes they’re spot on. Sometimes they’re not; just like me.”
His live show, under any persona, however, is nearly always on, a driving edginess permeating even the quiet moments. For an East Coaster (Amherst, Mass.-based at his musical naissance) Thompson seems to have a bit of a lyrical obsession with the West (“Los Angeles,” “California Bound”). He now finds his home in Portland, Oregon. However, his return to the Maxwell’s Hoboken stage fills him with fond recollections: “Perhaps in loyalty to my earliest memories of the place, I’m always impressed there is a fresh bowl of pasta to eat. I always enjoy playing there. I always feel as if ‘tonight’s the big night; there are people to impress; do a good job.’ Exciting for me. Always. I’m very comfortable in small clubs; it’s where I come from, professionally speaking.”
This tour, he’s billed as Black Francis, a name he used in the Pixies and repurposed again starting in 2007, following a post-Pixies-stint as Frank Black that began in 1993. So, what’s in a name? Re Black Francis, he explains: “I was writing a record called Bluefinger. I was inspired by the subject matter ([infamous Dutch artistic personality] Herman Brood), and felt I had slipped back into a headspace that was more arty than it had been in some years. I don’t know why that happened; I didn’t even know I had different headspaces. I was reminded of when I was younger and starting out in show business. I felt good. I always liked the moniker–after my grandmother Frances; Black was a family name from a few generations back– and I wanted it back.” That said, a Black Francis show still potentially encompasses material from the Pixies, the Catholics, and even his current tour partner, Brooklynite Reid Paley (of Paley & Francis fame).
And we can’t let Thompson go without one of his most-asked questions: What’s up with the beloved Pixies, who reunited in 2004 and whose most recent gigs were in 2011? “Hell, if I know!” he replies. No matter the name or band, when sung by the man born Charles Michael Kittridge Thompson IV, songs about mustaches and UFOs never rocked so hard.