With Last Splash The Breeders delivered Generation X’s Pet Sounds, grunge’s post-Nevermind masterstroke. Just as equally every recording before and after it is as potent a statement. But if all this proclamation strays too deeply into hyperbole another proposal would just be to say that each of these records, the songs, and the band which plays them still hold up.
Why so? Well, there’s something about great songs which lays at the heart of popular music. Artists can be born from their moment or pushed to stratospheric heights through corporate machination, but it’s only the simplicity and honesty of a great song that grants them staying power and a true sense of significance.
The Breeders have this. It feels like they’ve mattered. Having survived a tumultuous decade in the 1990s, Kim Deal and the band are now pushing past 50. Even though they may now skew a little closer to entertainers than prophets of alternarock, they’re still vital. No small part of this is due to the songs they’ve created and the albums they string together.
“It feels like The Breeders have mattered.” Do they still? Can they still continue to matter? This line of thinking inevitably leads to All Nerve. The record’s reception in the music press seemed more a celebration of Kim’s heroic influence than the christening of another creative epoch. Yet of all the Breeders’ records Nerve carries the stronger narrative bent, at least in terms of emotional background. Kim was mostly absent from music since 2008. A large part of this was due to the demands posed by caring for an ailing mother who was suffers from Alzheimer's.
Considering Kim’s focus on family, a different meaning can be given to the lyrical agitation of ‘Wait in the Car’. A first listen conjures imagery of parent and child, but the roles could be reversed. Picture that the subject of the scolding might instead be a parent, one in their child’s care. If this is the case, there’s a different gravitas. ‘Wait’ might just as much as a comment on mortality, debility and the desolation of age as a sarcastic giggle. Just as easily it could be Kim imaging the child rock ‘n’ roll’s excesses ensured she never really found time to have. Both of those things, neither or more take it as you will, just know there’s a bleak resignation that the song feels like it is putting across and that the implication of this is that we're seeing a more complex hue of Deal’s creativity, something that’s not so readily abundant in the solipsisms or giddy euphoria of her earlier work.
This might be taken to suggest that All Nerve’s songs are a little grim but live it’s a different matter. Maybe we just haven’t been listening to this album properly kid because live songs like ‘Wait in the Car’, ‘All Nerve’ and ‘Spacewoman’ play out with a burst of the triumphant. This music is the product of close to four decades of hardship and hard work. The Breeders are here because there’s so much that they’ve overcome: Addiction, loss, pain and just the slog it all entirely. Maybe the crowd doesn’t realise it on the surface but so to have they and in which case it’s cause for a celebration it’s time to cut loose and to have a good time.
But the gig itself? Right. Well, it starts with Kim walking onstage. She’s wearing a plain black shirt and grey pants. She flashes a smile. Her smile, the one that beams like it could be seen from a mile away. In her hands she grasps a guitar, a gold Les Paul. (Sister Kelly’s is bright red).
The set comes heavy with material from the Last Splash but throughout the hour-and-a-half-or-so onstage they survey on Pod, Title Tk, Mountain Battles and aforementioned fifth record All Nerve. ‘Cannonball’ is met with ecstatic roars. With it, The Breeders delivered one of the most left-of-centre songs ever to strike popular culture, well at least in the 1990s. But in essence, most if not all of their songs carry the same weird energies. Every one of them is a hit in its own imagined universe.
The night rolls on with an easy charm. Josephine Wiggs talks to the crowd about koalas, Kelly takes the limelight to sing ‘I Just Wanna Get Along’ and then karaoke’s the violin part on ‘Drivin’ On 9’ (it usual performer, Carrie Bradley was not on tour).
The Pixies-era ‘Gigantic’ also sets the crowd on fire while begging question how much of Brisbane’s Violent Soho along with their grunge thumping progeny’s work is indebted to the song’s signature chug. The band exits, and the crowd stomps. “More!.” The band returns for an encore: ‘Nervous Mary’, ‘Do You Love Me Know’ and ‘When I Was A Painter’.
Kim delivers another earsplitting smile as waves and is cheered offstage. When Kim smiles it might be part of the act but there’s also part of her that means it. And that’s the core of The Breeders kick. They’re not faking it.