For most of the nineties, The Breeders’ “Cannonball” seemed inescapable on my hometown radio station, WHFS 99.1, in Annapolis, Maryland. Since “Cannonball” announces itself with Kim Deal’s distorted “Ahoooooa,” it was a DJ favorite and allowed for some creative presentation: Straight out of commercial break–“Cannonball;” Clever DJ quip–“Cannonball.” With it’s distinctive opening, you knew in an instant you were about to get a dose of “Cannonball.” In the end, it was ever-present and soundtracked some of the mundane events of my life—driving to school, driving to Tower Records, sitting in traffic—and made these moments all the better for it. Even if I would have preferred to sometimes hear “Divine Hammer” in “Cannonball’s” stead, “Cannonball” was what we got.
It’s hard to believe it’s been twenty years since Last Splash, The Breeders’ seminal album that brought the world “Cannonball.” Even Kim Deal apparently didn’t realize it had been so long, and in an interview with MTV.com, Deal said she was sitting on the couch with her twin sister and Breeders’ guitarist Kelley when Kelley told her Last Splash would turn twenty this year. “Oh my god!” was Kim’s reaction, not far off from my own since those car rides with “Cannonball” date me, too.
Well, an album like Last Splash doesn’t turn twenty without a bit of fanfare (massive deluxe box set coming soon), and I caught the Breeders at The Bell House in Gowanus, Brooklyn on Friday night, a stop on their LSXX (“Last Splash 20”) world tour. The New York dates had sold out in minutes, and when I looked for a ticket for a friend on Craigslist a few days before, the hundred-dollar scalped price meant I went alone out to Gowanus, an area hit hard by Hurricane Sandy. I overheard one audience member remarking that The Bell House had done an incredible job recovering post-Sandy—he claimed the entire place had been flooded.
After a moving if somewhat nerve-addled performance from Brooklyn’s Julia Read—pleasant rainy Portland looking-out-the-bedroom-window music—it was all Breeders. Walking out on stage to enthusiastic cheers and whistles, Kim took to the mic and simply said, “Hi, thanks for coming. We’re going to play Last Splash now,” and ripped right into “New Year” with more energy than I expected—everything was louder, the guitars were more distorted, the drumming was much more explosive and energetic. More oomph to everything, really.
The thing about playing Last Splash straight through is that “Cannonball” is the second song on the album, so just a few minutes into their set, the Breeders played their biggest hit. For Kim’s distinctive distorted screams, she had what looked like a paper Coke cup around the mic which she held with both hands while she screamed away. There seemed to be an understanding amongst the audience that everyone knew “Cannonball” was The Breeder’s most famous song, so while it got the people up front near the stage pogoing and shouting along, once it was over there was room for the other lesser known, but also great, tracks off Last Splash to shine.
The original Last Splash lineup of Kim, Kelley, Josephine Wiggs on bass, and Jim MacPherson on drums, plus violinist Carrie Bradley, reunited for the LSXX tour. There was a commitment to authenticity, with Josephine switching to drums on “No Aloha” because she had played drums on the original recording and Carrie stepping off stage on songs for which she wasn’t needed. Knowing glances and smiles between Kim and Kelley were frequent, there was a high five between Kim and Carrie during “Hag,” and the whole thing was a sort of bittersweet triumph—with the Pixies, addiction and everything else in the rearview mirror, it was time for the band to just enjoy playing some killer songs. Carrie danced enthusiastically whenever she could, which seemed to get people throughout the entire venue doing the same. There was a back and forth between the audience and the band; when Kim would fumble or make some sort of inside joke, the audience laughed quick enough to let you know they were in on it, and there were cheers of anticipation for memorable parts of songs. After “I Just Want to Get Along,” the song on which Kelley, on lead vocals, sarcastically snarls the song’s title over and over, a man in the audience yelled out, “Thank you for doing this!” Even if the vocals were a bit muddied on certain songs, they played a set that only a real stickler could complain about.
For their lengthy encore, Kim assured the crowd they’d play some songs off The Breeder’s 1990 debut Pod, which included “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” and “Oh!”–great songs both, but not so recognizable to the casual fan. While everyone was yelling out requests, one guy yelled, “Play whatever you want!” Those present would have been fine with it, but it’s hard to imagine the band engineering a world tour that wouldn’t rely heavily on Last Splash. If Last Splash is ultimately what defines The Breeders, so be it—I don’t think anyone would complain.