Live Review: The Breeders Splash Back at Bell House
Photo by Polidorable via Instagram
The fact that it’s been 20 years since “Cannonball” first shot into MTV’s Buzz Bin is pretty mind boggling. Since the release of “Last Splash” in August 1993, The Breeders didn’t exactly implode, but what could have been two decades of regular indie rock albums on a major label budget by an all-out power quartet ended up being a sporadic scattershot of releases – an album here, an EP there, and with a typically revolving door lineup where only the Deal sisters remained the constant. While the time between releases were chasms, when you add it all up, it doesn’t feel like that much time passed.
While records like “Title TK” and “Mountain Battles” were decent listens, they were disappointing in their release contexts, both coming after years of silence – not to mention both lacking the spectacular rhythm section of bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim MacPherson that helped catapult “Last Splash” into the top 40.
When The Breeders hit the stage of The Bell House in Gowanus Friday night, that “classic” lineup was reinstated, there to recreate the magic of the record that essentially made The Breeders more popular than Kim Deal’s former group, the retrospectively game-changing Pixies. This “Last Splash” tour is in promotion of “LSXX,” a remastered expanded edition of the now-classic album which comes on 4AD in April. Kim and Kelley Deal took their spots on opposite ends of the stage with Josephine Wiggs and Jim MacPherson anchoring in center. Carrie Bradley who contributed heavily to all of The Breeders’ ‘90s records was also in tow, playing violin and keyboard on a number of tracks but otherwise acting as the group’s cheerleader.
The vibe of the show was naturally intimate given The Bell House’s simple stage set-up which made any shakiness in the beginning of the show forgivable, although it would have been great if they pushed the tempo on “Flipside,” a personal favorite (I even used it in a student film I made once). The album’s other not-filler instrumental “S.O.S.” faired much better with Jim MacPherson really hitting his stride at the kit. There were many occasions where the band almost looked surprised that they were doing as well as they did – seeing Kelley’s astonished expression after nailing the soaring “ahs” at the end of “Do You Love Me Now?” was particularly great as was watching Josephine Wiggs’ worried look as she thumbed through the bass-lines, many of which are the most crucial elements of the band’s songs (the iconic “Cannonball” bass-line shot through the excited audience like a current. The band ripped the most though during the encore which was a mixed bag of “Last Splash”-era rarities like “Shocker in Gloomtown” and “Head to Toe,” and favorites from their first album and EP like “Lime House” and “Safari.”
Most entertaining overall was the band’s dedication to recreating all the idiosyncrasies of the recorded versions of each song – Jim MacPerson blew wind chimes at the end of “Invisible Man”; Kelley Deal played her “Mad Lucas” guitar-part through a tiny amp; both Josephine Wiggs and MacPherson switched instruments on “Roi” where MacPherson also provided a noisy mini-moog solo in the drone section. Later on, even Carrie Bradley threw in a loud yelp in the “mother superior” section of “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” as can be inexplicably heard on the “Pod” version of the Beatles cover. For die-hard fans, it was a delightful nerd-out for everyone including The Breeders themselves.
They closed with “Don’t Call Home” which featured some tasty noodling from Kelley Deal and a deliciously noisy climax. Looking back on the show, it felt almost like you were hanging out at one of their houses and watching the five of them just having a good time going through their old material given all the comical interaction between the group. It was an experience that can’t help but make one wonder what Tanya Donnelly and Brad Walford are doing right now – the 25th anniversary of “Pod” is only 2 years away.
Here’s a fan-made clip of the band performing “Happiness is a Warm Gun” at the show along with a classic clip of them playing “Divine Hammer” on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” Catch the interview after where the girls get up close and personal with Coco.