August 18, 2009
The Breeders are way, way past “Cannonball” and you better be too. The band’s first of two rapidly sold-out shows at Bowery Ballroom was loaded with classics–hell, they played half of their 1993 breakthrough Last Splash. But the Breeders’ eyes were aimed squarely at being a legacy band that reinvents itself in exciting ways.
Last year’s Mountain Battles was one of the best indie rock albums of 2008, a numb statement of minimal weirdness, pop-punk glee, and hazy balladry. Like its somber cousin, Portishead’s Third, the record intentionally amplified its loose beats and fudged notes–a document of unease, dissonance and tension in an era of squeaky-sharp MGMT and Feist records. Consummate professionals in a live setting, the Breeders can cull these woozy inaccuracies as reliably as Dream Theater can conjure up a diminished seventh. Opening(!) with “Divine Hammer” B-side “Hoverin’,” Kim Deal sang and smacked a snare drum, her beats never quite matching with the metronomic snap of kit-drummer Jose Medeles. Kim and sister Kelly have mastered the phased vocal technique on “Bang On” that makes the song sound like it’s recovering from a hangover. For extra arty-sloppiness, Kim played drums on Title TK‘s “The She” while Medeles made gross organ drones.
However, the Last Splash tracks were the exact opposite, played with the rigid insistence of Wire songs, causing the audience to do a goofball bounce practically every time. Fuck ’90s nostalgia, the Breeders will play the hits, but only to juxtapose against their slurrier new stuff. Even with three guitars on stage, “Do You Love Me Now” and “New Year” weren’t as loud or crunchy or funky or (gasp!) grungy as you’d remember–just taut, spindly, post-punk shells. When they played “Cannonball” (half an hour into the set, suckers!) the crowd gave every part a separate roar–the “aaaoohh,” the rim clicks, the rubbery bassline–but the Breeders played the damn thing super-fast, like it was a Me First And The Gimme Gimmes cover. “Saints” sounded like Elastica. These aren’t complaints–this is a band that refuses to sit still, resolutely making its old material sound fresh, and its fresh material sound fucked.