Last year I reviewed legendary indie band, The Pixies’ excellent performance at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney for Daily Review. In some quarters, the band that played that night at the Horden was a Clayton’s version of The Pixies; it didn’t include original bass player Kim Deal, who was replaced by Paz Lechantin, who does a good imitation of Kim Deal.
Kim Deal formed The Breeders in 1990 as she felt creatively frustrated by Frank Black’s control of The Pixies. Despite The Pixies being heroes to everyone from Bowie to Radiohead, I’ve always preferred The Breeders. They’re just so damn catchy, and with Deal’s unique vocal delivery they’ve carved out a place in rock history in their own right. (Kurt Cobain was famously a big fan of The Breeders, citing their debut album Pod as an influence on the sound of Nirvana’s Nevermind.)
Like the best rock, The Breeders are ugly and pretty in equal measure. The best example of this is found in their big hit Cannonball from their masterful second album Last Splash. It alternately swings, smiles and punches you in the gob. The influence of The Pixies is clear, but The Breeders are funkier and at times quite heavy indeed.
They’re here supporting a new album called All Nerve. It is more of a straight up indie rock record relative to their early work. There is less variety and less swing, which is not to say that it isn’t a worthwhile addition to their catalogue. Half the album is of very high calibre. Songs like Nervous Mary, Wait in the Car and MetaGoth are fantastic and the lyrics to Blues at the Acropolis with its reference to drunks and junkies in the shadow of a monument to ancient wisdom are memorable.
The classic Breeders line-up of Kim Deal (lead vocals and guitar), her twin sister Kelley Deal (guitar and vocals), Josephine Wiggs (bass and lead vocals on MetaGoth) and Jim Macpherson (drums) took the stage on Friday night. The spot on chords and crisp vocals of opening number Saints, let the packed Concert Hall know they were in for a special night.
Saints is a particularly upbeat song, not uncommon among The Breeders catalogue, a fact that set them apart from their relentlessly gloomy peers during their ’90s heyday. Early set winners, Divine Hammer and especially No Aloha, continued the good-time, party atmosphere. No Aloha was in the top percentile of quality tunes they performed. As the opening fractured, surf guitar licks were struck, Wiggs shot bubbles across the stage in an appropriate gesture for the supreme, blissed out rendition of No Aloha. The Breeders delivered.
Of course, not all of the best Breeders tunes come from a cheery place, especially on debut album Pod, the best of which were played at the Opera House – Beatles cover Happiness is a Warm Gun, When I Was a Painter and the sinister sludge of Glorious.
The Breeders could’ve packed the set with old favourites but the show was well sprinkled with songs from All Nerve and they were well received. Of the new numbers, the most popular was the Wiggs’ penned MetaGoth. Wiggs has never cracked a smile in her life and the sly groove was a great change-up.
The pinnacle of the night was the one-two punch of the first two tracks from Last Splash –the urgent chugga chugga riffs of New Year brought the crowd to their feet and the mighty Cannonball had them dancing in the aisles. The set ended with Kurt Cobain’s favourite Pixies song, the Kim Deal composed Gigantic. The final chapter was a three song encore.
The Breeders play Brisbane, Canberra and Melbourne this week. Details here
Photo of The Breeders at Sydney Opera House on Friday by Daniel Boud