The Breeders – Webster Hall – Thu 19-Dec-2013
It’s an interesting coincidence that the next two gigs in my calendar were The Breeders and then in New Year (itself a Breeders song title of course) the latest incarnation of the Pixies. And how even more intriguing that the leader of the former used to be the bass player – now the problem position – in the latter. How delicious. The intertwining comparisons don’t end there, more of which later.
I have seen the Breeders twice in 2013 already, all of which were ‘Last Splash’ gigs, this being the 20th year of the sophomore album release and one the band have busily been promoting all over the world since the Spring. I already had the ticket for this date in hand, when via Twitter we learned that on the last few dates the band would be playing their debut album: ‘Pod’ as well. Are you kidding me? Not just one seminal 90’s indie album but two? Deal twins: you are spoiling us. When I got to the venue to take in the support band, I was alarmed at how empty the place was? Were New York’s indie cognoscenti really ignoring the mighty Breeders? Had they all decided to go to the next night instead? No, as per usual New York’s indie cognoscenti prefer to turn up just as proceedings are beginning, many of them missing Speedy Ortiz do their stuff. By the time the Deal twins, bass player Josephine Wiggs, drummer Jim Macpherson and violin player/percussionist Carrie Bradley walked on stage a respectable audience was waiting expectantly. And then the opening chords to ‘New Year’ ripped in and we were away into ‘Last Splash’. Due to the album order, it is amusing to me that the song many are waiting for – ‘Cannonball’, of course – is blown through as the second number of the night.
To me, the greatest thing about The Breeders is how unpretentious they are: they genuinely appear to enjoy playing live, with both Deal twins laughing and smiling their way throughout the performance, often at little misplaced notes or suchlike. Both sisters, particularly Kelley, appear to grapple with their guitars as if novice musicians (and Kim is most certainly not, and nor is Kelley despite taking a crash course in guitar back in the day) yet both make the astonishing sounds as on their albums. They also have this uncanny ability to sing ever so slightly out of time, as per the original material too. The Deal tones are, however, unmistakable. I was entranced mostly by Kelley, to right of stage, as she grinned her way throughout the whole gig. Josephine, the English bass player, stood in the most advanced position with Kim to her left. Once again before you could catch your breath the album had been played and the band left the stage.
When they came back on – for the encore – Kim remarked that they were going to play ‘Pod’ in its entirety ‘because it only lasts half an hour’ or words to that effect. Everything about ‘Pod’ is absolutely sonically spot on: short crisp tight songs, with Steve Albini’s famous taut production. No wonder Pixiesboss Black Francis was supposedly threatened by Ms. Deal and her song writing abilities. Check out the end of ‘When I Was a Painter’ for a perfect example. Again, the band shot through one of Kurt Cobain’s all time favourite albums at breakneck speed. The previous night in Boston, original ‘Pod’ era member Tanya Donnelly had joined the band. I think I might have fainted if she appeared last night, but it was not to be, Ms. Donnelly tweeting good luck to Kelley earlier in the day. In any case the complete run through of the album was superb. Stand out tracks for me were aforementioned ‘When I Was a Painter’, ‘Iris’, ‘Opened’ and album closer ‘Metal Man’. But basically every track was awesome, who am I kidding. With that there was time for one more encore with a new song (and inexplicably from the crowd, balloons) and they were gone. Barely 90 minutes and two of the greatest albums ever recorded played back to back.
Here is ‘Iris’ from last night
Which brings me back to my earlier juxtaposition of The Breeders and Pixies in my gig itinerary: I have no doubt I will enjoy the latest incarnation of the later when I see them next month, but something about the removal of the last bass player and Black Francis’ boorish insistence that it is no big deal smacks of dysfunction and arrogance; the Breeders on the other hand look and sound like they are having a ball. I’ll enjoy the Pixies, but I doubt I will enjoy them as much as last night.
Sticky Carpets US gives the now teetotal Breeders 10 pints out of 10.