The Breeders
Bowery Ballroom, New York, August 18
by Stephen Slaybaugh

It caught me by surprise that the Breeders would be able to sell out two nights at the Bowery Ballroom (capacity approximately 800 people). The last time I had seen them play, in support of Title TK in 2002, they had barely filled a 500-person room for one night in Columbus. Now they’re on the road for a self-released EP and it’s been more than a year since their last full-length, Mountain Battles, released in April 2008. Like the band’s music itself, the activity of the Breeders contains many gaps and holes, only to be spiked with bursts of creativity, and Kim and Kelley Deal have always operated on their own schedule.

However, I obviously underestimated the surge in ’90s nostalgia. To wit: standing behind me for most of the show were two Beavis and Butthead–like dunderheads dressed in Nirvana t-shirts, their yabbering becoming increasingly more excited and increasingly punctuated with “dude!” The Breeders were part of the soundtrack for a certain generation, and Kim Deal was their slacker princess, only now she looked more like the female counterpart to her Pixie partner, Black Francis. Dressed in drab blue-collar colors, she sang barrel-chested and fingered her guitar with meaty paws.

But looks mattered little to the large crowd, who dug every note the band emitted. The Breeders, who now included a new guitarist that Kim introduced as Cheryl and who were joined at varied times by violinist Carrie Bradley, who had played on Pod, touched on nearly every one of their releases. “Walk It Off” and “Bang On” from Mountain Battles showed that record’s rhythmic backbone, their lean guitar parts seeming more like accents to the beats. “Little Fury” and “Huffer” were reminders of how overlooked and under-appreciated Title TK is, though not apparently by this crowd.

Still, the show’s best moments came from the band’s heyday. Their cover of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” and “Iris” (both from Pod) stood out from their spare counterparts, while “No Aloha” (Last Splash) retained its balance of haunted beauty and riveting aggression. Of course, their big hit, “Cannonball,” midway through the set, elicited the greatest response, but it seemed a little hurried. I couldn’t imagine that so many people came just to hear that one song, though, and after an hour and a half, I still didn’t get how this band had garnered this crowd in particular. It wasn’t nostalgia. It mattered little, as the Breeders convinced me nonetheless that they can do as they please and it will be alright.