A little nostalgia goes a long way
Twenty years ago, The Breeders soundtracked part of a generation with The Last Splash, and live it’s well worth a fresh outing
Kim Deal of The Breeders. Photograph: Erika Goldring/Getty Images
Vicar Street, Dublin
Some reputations come loaded with expectations, and because American/Anglo band The Breeders have gone down in pop-culture history as being a particular favourite of Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain, there is an associative link.
They started in the late 1980s courtesy of then Pixies bass player Kim Deal, who formed what was originally known as Boston Girl Super Group with then Throwing Muses guitarist Tanya Donelly.
Within a few years, Deal had recruited her non- guitar-playing sister Kelley as a replacement guitarist for Donnelly), as well as English musician Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim McPherson. It was this original line-up that recorded The Breeders second album, The Last Splash, which was released in 1993.
It seems that even anti-corporate grunge bands are prone to bouts of nostalgia, and so this gig (which also featured long-time violinist/musician/ colleague Carrie Bradley) was in celebration of the 20th anniversary of a record that remains a totemic statement of good but not necessarily feminist music – “Feminine and masculine don’t exist in music,” Deal informed NME 20 years ago. “It’s like a masculine and feminine cigarette: it’s all tobacco.”
And so the groundbreaking female/male rock band – negating gender difference with an integrated sound – found its way into the mainstream via albums such as The Last Splash (as well as their 1990 debut, Pod), and songs as eminently cool as Cannonball.
The latter is one of those remarkably swinging grunge/rock songs, replete with a hummable vocal refrain and a guitar riff that matches The Pixies at their best.
Cannonball and all of The Last Splash’s other tracks, including Divine Hammer, Saints, Do You Love me Now? and the unrepresentative Drivin’ on 9 – the album’s sole cover, but historically connected to the band nonetheless – are performed with good cheer and nonchalance. You can sense that it makes perfect logic for the band to do this, and to say they take to engaging once again with the album is an understatement.
There’s a naturalness, too, about the way the Deal sisters and the other band members interact on stage: there is no self-aggrandisement on display, no particular reason to show off. What we have is a band intent on recreating a particular strain of melodic, metallic pop/rock that influenced many and that was, for a time, the soundtrack to a generation that revered a kind of teen spirit some might regard as now virtually non-existent. It just goes to show that, once in a while, you really can put your arms around a memory with levels of integrity and understanding.