The Breeders at First Avenue, 12/12/13
Photo by Erik Hess
with Speedy Ortiz
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Thursday, December 12, 2013
Thursday night at First Avenue found '90s stalwarts the Breeders in pretty great form overall. The show was a front-to-back performance of their 1993 juggernaut Last Splash, which has become a touchstone for alt-rock. The album has aged better than one might suspect, with a surprising amount of rollercoaster-like turns along the way. It was a fun ride to take again, though not every trick still held its wonder.
The show opened with a cover of Guided By Voices' "Shocker in Gloomtown" from GBV's 1993 EP, The Grand Hour, "Just to check the sound," said lead singer Kim Deal. The 85-second sound check quickly gave way to a grunting, rumbling version of "New Year," and from there the band unfolded the album fairly quickly from song to song.
The sharp edges on many of the songs seemed to have blurred and softened a bit with the passage of time and "Cannonball," -- their signature song, the feedback-dusted intro to which occupies a good chunk of the sprawling pastiche that makes up the '90s musical map -- was the first, and most glaring example of this. The exacting, tightly wound chords were in capable hands with Kim Deal and her twin sister Kelley, but they apparently felt no need to have a few of these songs by the throat any longer, letting them instead exist as tumbled versions of themselves -- for better or worse.
Photos by Erik Hess
"Invisible Man" passed along slightly unnoticed, as it always kind of does while listening to the album, as well. You can sing along to the lyrics, but it just sort of floats off into the ether. "No Aloha" brought about something new, however. Last Splash always seemed (and on some level still seems) more revolutionary that it really was. It was, and still is, a pretty great album, but it wasn't new. Overall (and with "No Aloha" in particular), the album played out like watching a sunshower from a beach on 65-degree day.
It seemed warmer than it actually was, but was inviting despite itself. Much of this was likely due to both Kim's long tenure in the Pixies with their surf-rock vibe and possibly owing also to Kelley's heroin habit, which by '93 was monstrous and frightening -- an open secret that nobody was yet willing to address. Whatever the reasons, the trickery is still David Blaine-like in its execution. Meaning it may not even be a trick at all.
"Roi," still had its slow grind intact and the version the band offered the crowd was a highlight of the night. Kelley Deal took the mic for the fun, fluffy "Do You Love Me Now?" and as we readied to "flip" to side two with "Flipside," the set -- just as the album does, started to sag just a bit with "I Just Wanna Get Along" and what was easily the set's (and album's, really, too) low point, "Mad Lucas." It was a minor lull, however, and things revved up once more as they turned in a version of "Divine Hammer" that was so magnesium-bright and spot on, if you had closed your eyes you would have been transported back to your teenage bedroom, sitting on the floor with headphones on, staring at the album cover, wondering what, exactly, that heart was supposed to mean.
"S.O.S." came and went without much impact but "Hag" was another high point for the night as was "Saints," with its goofy lyrics about underwear and hook-filled guitar work that rolls in on itself before exploding as a call to arms. "Drivin' on 9" and "Roi (Reprise)" ended the proper set, but the Breeders were nowhere near done as they came out for a pretty fantastic, seven-song encore that included several cuts from 1990s Pod, the band's debut that is very different aesthetically, much of it very dark.
Photos by Erik Hess
They began with "Glorious" and moved quickly into "Safari" from their 1992 EP of the same name. From there they muddled through what was, at best, a so-so version of the Beatles' "Happiness Is a Warm Gun" and "Oh!" As they continued on, the band played a solo cut of Kim's, which she claimed they'd never played live, called "Walking with a Killer," which was a shame only in that they hadn't been playing that live all along--it turned out to be yet another highlight of a night that seemed full of them. "When I Was a Painter" from Pod rounded things out but, they weren't done just yet. They came out for a quick-and-dirty version of "Iris," and at almost exactly the 90-minute mark, the celebration of Last Splash's 39 minutes had ended.
It was a surf-rock-ish, oddly arranged second album from a side project of a member of the Pixies, who had broken up just prior to its release. Whether it was filling a void or whatever the circumstances, it became a legend, a designation that in retrospect, it rightly deserves. It's imperfect, but charmingly so and it was a bright, shining beacon amidst the dour, dirty landscape of '90s alt-rock. The only thing that's confusing is why it took 20 years to celebrate its overall greatness.
Critic's Bias: I was looking forward to this show less and less as Thursday night approached, but it reinvigorated me in a way that is sort of indescribable and will carry me through the weekend.
The Crowd: Filled with people who seemed like they would go on for hours about how awesome 120 Minutes on MTV was if you'd let them. That isn't an insult; I'd do that, too, if you'd let me.
Overheard in the Crowd (I): "Hey, you guys want some tater tots? Hold on, they're in my pocket."
Overheard In the Crowd (II): "Wait, who's Kim Gordon? I thought she was." [In reference to Kim Deal.]
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.