Whilst plotting to break the news that the she was leaving The Pixies in the middle of a tour celebrating the twentieth anniversary of her other band’s landmark album seems like far too egotistical a move for one as humble as Kim Deal, it does cast tonight’s performance in a slightly different light.
Though her bass and vocals were as much a part of The Pixies sound as Black Francis’s screaming about the bible or Joey Santiago’s surf punk guitar lines, so much of Deal’s best music – with The Breeders, The Amps, and now as a fledgling solo artist – comes outside of that group’s admittedly remarkable four album run. If this actually was the ‘Look At Me, I’m Kim Deal!’ tour, nobody here would begrudge her basking in a little limelight.
And yet she really seems to be doing this not to massage her own ego, but because she thinks we might find it a blast. One of the reasons that we do, so much, is down to the attention paid to detail. Whilst the last few years of the Breeders shows has reunited Kim and twin sister Kelley, the rest of the band has been a revolving cast of fellas who, despite my having seen them on stage on numerous occasions, I’d struggle to name or even recognise in the street. Tonight, for Last Splash’s twentieth birthday, we get the band that played Last Splash – meaning returns for Josephine Wiggs on bass and Carrie Bradley on violin.
Part of the charm of the album is its simplicity – the thing is uncomplicated to a degree that’s actually pretty inspiring, making you think that you too could write a great album if only you could master a bar chord like Kim Deal. But it’s also a record so imbued with the personalities of those playing it that hearing it performed by any others, sang in a slightly different voice or played with even an ounce of flourish on the bass for example, would ruin its delicate chemistry. These guys nail Last Splash, because they’re the only people who, really, can be trusted to play it right.
The album’s track listing however isn’t structured like a live set, meaning that their one true hit ‘Cannonball’, which comes just two songs in to their time on stage, and numbers like ‘Mad Lucas’, a piece of ominous droning that was probably never meant to be played live, sit in curious places on the setlist.
However, as already alluded to, the attention to detail is all part of the fun. And though it’s dreadfully sad and disarmingly gorgeous in places (on ‘Do You Love Me Now?’ and ‘Drivin’ on 9’, it’s both), that’s what this set reminds you that Last Splash is above everything else – fun. Indie records with one big hit on them often struggle to maintain the listeners’ interest in their final third, but that’s when this, their second LP, really hits its stride – ‘Hag’, ‘Saints’ and especially ‘Divine Hammer’ are all received with as much glee as ‘Cannonball’, because, being honest, they’re actually just as great.
So far so good, but also so unsurprising – that The Breeders playing Last Splash was going to be a good night out was never really in doubt. But there followed an encore that nobody could have seen coming, Kim returning to the stage with the words “We’ve been practicing a lot because we wanted to do something special for London … so we’re going to play Pod.”
Cue lots of people in their late twenties turning to one another and saying how, actually, they think Pod might be a bit better than Last Splash, actually. Annoying though it is to overhear (alright, I joined in), there’s a lot of truth in it, especially on tonight’s showing. Whilst Last Splash was delivered with undeniable charisma, if one was being particularly harsh, you could say its faster moments could have been a little punchier. Pod is a slower record, which really suits this current incarnation of the Breeders, a band who don’t play like they’re in any sort of a hurry.
Though a record of less pace, it’s certainly the more intense of the pair, with even its most sugary moments appearing in numbers that later see the band at their most impassioned (a thoroughly disarming ‘Iris’, the closing snarl of ‘Metal Man’). The songs sometimes seem to have more space in them than they do sounds, leaving a tune like the astonishing ‘Oh!’ tantalisingly teetering on the brink of falling apart completely, and ‘When I Was A Painter’ – which often strips back to just drums and a single staccato bass note from Josephine – lending weight to the theory that less is indeed more.
That said, tonight’s crowd have been given more by this band than they’d probably have dared ask for as they shuffled in. Even coming from a guy who loves Title TK, it’s hard to think what more one could possibly want from a Breeders gig.
Photograph by Jason Williamson.