Turns out, The Breeders are as charming as their fans say. The indie rock veterans— known for their influential output but down-to-earth personalities— played an Austin City Limits late night show at the Historic Scoot Inn Sunday that teetered on the edge of chaos and control.
Story by Carys Anderson
The Breeders performed at Austin City Limits Saturday before their late night show the next day.
Fans of all ages arrived early for a drink at the unique venue, a small barn with an outdoor stage overlooking a diamond of dirt and a back porch. With the weather finally cooling down, the audience prepared for a casual night of guitar bliss.
Strangers at the barricade bonded by discussing their history of seeing the band over the years, in various iterations. Originally meant as a creative outlet for Kim Deal, whose songwriting skills were stifled as bass player of indie rock pioneers the Pixies, the Breeders began in 1989, inspiring Kurt Cobain and cementing Deal in cool-girl history in the process. The band released “All Nerve,” their first record in 10 years, this March; fans who saw them in April returned Sunday elated to see them back in Austin so soon.
First, opening band Moaning performed cuts from this year’s self-titled, post-punk debut. Singer-guitarist Sean Solomon mentioned twice how honored they were to open for “one of our favorite bands,”referring to The Breeders.
In “Artificial,” drummer Andrew MacKelvie stuck to the cymbals and Pascal Stevenson played a pulsing bass line, recalling the genre pioneers of the ‘80s. In “Don’t Go,” Solomon delivered monotonic vocals that have drawn comparisons to Ian Curtis of Joy Division.
Elsewhere, in highlights like “Close” and “Tired,” Stevenson juggled bass, synths and a guitar pedal that created a whooshing wall of feedback. For set climax “The Same,” the stage lights finally kicked in, shining a red mist to emphasize the song’s intensity. Solomon traded his understated delivery for screams of “don’t let me break your heart… we’re the same.”
The Breeders’ set began with a joke between sisters and singer-guitarists Kim and Kelley Deal about being unprofessional. But even if Kim began a song with the wrong chord, or Kelley delayed the next’s beginning, they were cool-headed about it all. When those terse songs got going, it was clear to see why The Breeders are beloved. Kim Deal displayed her ear for catchy and quirky riffs in a performance that spanned the band’s almost 30 year on-again off-again career.
The packed setlist favored 1993’s “Last Splash”—the album that brought the band commercial success—and this year’s “All Nerve,” the first in 25 years to feature that album’s classic lineup. In doing so, the band showed the fullest potential of their dynamics: 92 seconds of rumbling noise in “S.O.S.” were balanced by the new, atmospheric songs “Howl at the Summit” and “MetaGoth.”
While the headliners lacked an aura of seriousness, The Breeders’ songs are crafted, and they know it. Rather than haphazardly running through songs they’ve played hundreds of times, they stayed true to the recordings that influenced so many.
“Cannonball,” the band’s biggest hit, was complete with Deal’s muffled vocals and even a real whistle that caused uproarious laughter in the crowd. While other bands— many of which peers or students of The Breeders or the Pixies— become ashamed of the pop sensibilities that bring them attention, The Breeders embrace it.
Their music lives inside the grey area between the accessible and the strange. On tour, they bring the fun they have in this realm to the stage.