Happiness Is a Warm Smile: Breeders Live in Detroit

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BY BRIAN HOEKSTRA

 How cosmically adequate is it for a band by the name of the Breeders to land in Detroit (at the Majestic, May 12) to celebrate 20 years of their iconic ‘Last Splash’ album…on Mothers Day??? The planet tilts in their direction this week. The coincidences are not merely lost in the stars. As their own “No Aloha” states: “Motherhood means mental freeze”. Does it really mean that? Probably depends on the mother? The potential is here to get really heady with this, but this is the fricking Breeders. On May 12 at the Majestic, the conversations went more like this:

 

Kelley Deal: “Did you all remember to call your mothers today?”

 Kim Deal: “We’re a band called the Breeders, and none of us ever had kids…”

 Audience: (Laughter, Appreciation)

 

The exchange was but a playful speck of dust in the Breeders universe, and serves as a small reminder of  the quirky, creative spark that’s given its fans 20+ years of experimental rock and roll. Dare it be said that the dream of the ’90s is alive when one of the Deal sisters cracks a smile? If it feels warm enough, a fan can feel it from a light year away.

 So, talk of the universe and cultural relativity aside, how do the Breeders sound in 2013? The answer is fantastic. What’s more is that the whole thing feels genuine. Inherently, the album they hit the road to champion, lends itself well to live presentation. There is no real common theme. The songs are loose and open to interpretation, and whenever things start to feel caged, the relief comes via the instrumental interludes.

(below, top to bottom: Kim Deal, Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs, Carrie Bradley)

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 And what about “Cannonball”? Let’s get this outta the way first. The way it’s framed within the tour is not of a bombast encore, where the casual fan is chomping at the bit. Its simply one of the gang. No special treatment given. Played pretty straight-up, and early in the set before the band really hits its stride.

 The mentioned “No Aloha”, a fan-favorite, reached more combustible territory. It’s a slow build, trading on the Deals wonderful ability to grace a sparse arrangement for a few moments before blowing the lid off. “Do You Love Me Know”, one of the more emotionally-direct songs from their catalog, was given its respectful due. It burned and buzzed, never rushed, and lovers were spotted swaying back and forth in appreciation. Harmonies swelled at the closing as Kim reminded/asked everyone:  “You loved me before, do you love me now?” The answer was yes. Similar vibes all around when “Mad Lucas” hit. Kelley Deal jumped in to take charge on the quotable “I Just Wanna Get Along”.

 The balance between the lullabies and the 2-minute romps make for a live mixtape experience. An assumption can be made that that’s the very reason this whole thing works as well as it does. It caters to the sometimes restless side of artistic experience. There’s never really one groove to settle on. The moods change and the band gets time to breathe during surf-rock flourishes. The whole machine seems to crank along quite nicely.  

 What fans are currently experiencing overall is that of a welcome return for a band that is putting some new electricity into it’s legacy. Along with the well-received buzz of a reunion tour, this week also brings a new version of ‘Last Splash’ (dubbed ‘LSXX’) , released with all the super-fan glory that comes with deluxe treatment. Bless the 14 year old rock and roller picking up LSXX for the first time, seeking a place in the house to read all the liner notes. Bliss.

 The songs stand the test of time, and have outgrown their “Alt Rock”/MTV Buzzworthy clothes. Alas its true, there is vitality in this set of songs outside of the odd (in the top 40 arena) “Cannonball”. 20 years on, female-driven rock bands with similar branches on the family tree are orbiting – Bleeding Rainbow, La Sera, Screaming Females, Bleached, owe some of their cultural resonance to the Breeders.

 Getting back in front of an audience again, with enthusiasm, is endearing for curious listeners new and old. Kim knows just as good as any one how to pull off devotion to an album’s worth of songs, coming off similar tours with the Pixies. The set ended with “Pod”-era tunes to accent. Great to see. Happiness is a warm smile, made all the better with driving guitar. Bless the Deal sisters and co.

[Photos credit: Nicole LaRae Leach]

 

 

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