Kim Deal howls a muffled siren as Jim Macpherson taps out the start to “Cannonball.” With a bass lick from Josephine Wiggs and a groovy riff from Kelley Deal, The Breeders of 1993’s seminal “Last Splash” are reunited at last. As “Cannonball” bangs on The Masonic’s vaulted ceilings, the sleeping cells of youth in the middle-aged audience begin shoving their way to the front as Kim Deal glances down in a combination of confusion and confidence, quivering her distorted acoustic guitar as the indie rock mosh pit intensifies.
As frontwoman of The Breeders and essential songwriter and bassist of Pixies, Kim Deal is important to the alternative rock wave of the 90s that listeners have seen revived again and again to varying degrees of success. Touring behind their new record “All Nerve,” The Breeders curiously began their set with “New Year,” a relatively deep cut on their popular 1993 album “Last Splash.” “New Year”’s fuzzy and off-kilter groove begins with Deal’s smushed delivery of the line “We have come for light.”
Indeed, The Breeders have been wholly out of the spotlight since 2008’s “Mountain Battles,” but their latest album does not find them clamoring for attention. Instead, the “All Nerve”-era lets their askew take on alternative rock speak for itself, with little extraneous crowd banter or stage tricks. Weaving in and out of older tracks, the group let their performance’s minimalist theatrics prove through raw performance that “All Nerve” deserves a place in their celebrated discography.
“Wait In The Car,” the first single from “All Nerve,” followed smoothly after “New Year.” Written as a literal wake up call, “Wait In The Car” added urgency to the audience members returning from their long-awaited bathroom break after Post Pink’s opening riot grrl performance. As on the rest of “All Nerve,” Kim Deal’s experimentation with a more abrasive vocal delivery on “Wait In The Car” translates as well live as it does in the studio.
Most of the world got to know Kim Deal for her ethereal background vocals for Pixies and the first few studio efforts for The Breeders. Kim Deal’s especially soothing voice worked especially well on “Fortunately Gone” off of their 1990 debut “Pod” and the group’s cover of Ed’s Redeeming Qualities’ “Drivin’ on 9.” For the latter, Kim and Kelley Deal hyped up and brought on a local female violinist to play its middle section.
The Breeders’ duality of poppier, happier rock and more abstract arrangements wove throughout their set: the delicate “No Aloha” and “Divine Hammer” were balanced by the punchy “Nervous Mary” and “I Just Wanna Get Along.” In each mode, The Breeders seemed as tightly knit as their “Last Splash” heyday, which has never truly been lost on them.
Though the group played well as an equitable-unit, Kim Deal actualized her role as The Breeders’ frontwoman on arguably the band’s second-most popular song “Off You.” As she played the first few chords of the set’s most sleepy, melancholy ballad, the audience began to cheer, almost purely out of the collective recognition of the song. “Off You” brought no moshing — a departure from the raucous audience during “Cannonball.” Instead, the crowd resigned their excitement and introspectively swayed to the song’s rhythm as Kim reflects on loneliness and invisibility.
As a nod to her days at Pixies, Kim Deal closed the main set by picking up her signature bass guitar and treated the audience to “Gigantic,” one of the few Pixies songs she wrote and sang lead. Though tender at first, the song’s noisy finale shook The Masonic’s thick stone walls, and with Kelley Deal’s final stringed blow left the audience cheering as The Breeders took off with a few final expressions of gratitude.
The crowd (median age: 45) wanted more. As Kelley and Kim embraced to celebrate yet another successful show. Fully grown adults attempted to vault themselves over to the stage to reach over to the twin sisters in admiration. But alas, The Breeders were out of sight.
In a beautiful expression of cross-generational appreciation, the crowd erupted in encore chants, craving more even if they weren’t alive when The Breeders released their debut. With a respectful delay, Wiggs, McPherson and the Deals returned to the stage. Without hesitation, they smoothly began playing a few deeper cuts off of “All Nerve.” Before the encore turned into a full-fledged new set, the band left the crowd on “Saints,” a hard-hitting anthem off of “Last Splash.” Finally taking off, Kim waved to the crowd to see the young and old respond in unison, thanking her for her show, her work and her eternal place in the history of alternative rock.
You can listen to The Breeders’ “All Nerve” on Spotify, Apple Music and Google Play now and can catch them on tour by visiting their website.
Contact Dylan Grosz at dgrosz ‘at’ stanford.edu.