The Breeders always sell out in San Francisco. Sunday’s show at The Independent was no different, as tickets were gone within minutes of being released. A second date was soon added at the nearby Rickshaw Stop, the night before, which, too, sold out.
The anticipation to see them was so intense Sunday night that as the alternative rock quartet took The Independent’s stage 15 minutes later than expected, the capacity crowd went berserk with cheers and applause. Understandably so, since it’s been four long years since fans had seen vocalist-rhythm guitarist Kim Deal, lead guitarist Kelley Deal, bassist Josephine Wiggs, and drummer Jim McPherson in San Francisco. That was for the outfit’s sell-out “Last Splash XX Tour,” revisiting their landmark Last Splash album, which featured two of their highest charting singles, the No. 2 smash “Cannonball” and Top 30 hit “Divine Hammer.”
But all the fanfare tonight didn’t appear to swell the group members’ heads. Almost 30 years after ex-Pixies bassist Kim Deal formed the band with a slightly different lineup that included Throwing Muses’ singer-guitarist Tanya Donelly to record their debut album, 1991’s Pod, a critical success that would go on to influence the likes of Nirvana, the band came onstage, genuinely surprised by the reaction of the crowd, as if they were an opening act, playing their first show, surprised that anyone’s familiar with any of their material. Eyes wide, mouths open, and blushing, they seemed to ask with their expression, “Are you actually here to see us?”
This appears to be less false modesty, more immense gratitude. “Hi, we’re The Breeders,” Kim said, as if we didn’t already know. “We’re gonna play some songs for you this evening,” she added, before launching into a joyful, blistering, eclectic set, spanning the band’s 27-year catalog, including four LPs and a side project EP.
Kicking off the jams with the sunny, anthemic “Saints,” the “Divine Hammer” follow-up, which could have been written about an early Breeders show — “It’s a lot of face, a lot of crank air” — the Breeders rocked the crowd for the next 90 minutes, as they cranked out fun fan favorites, such as “Cannonball,” “Hag,” “Divine Hammer,” and “No Aloha.”
In contrast, the somber, poetic, imagery-fueled “Off You,” off the band’s 2002 Title TK, arrested the crowd as it brought Kim Deal’s plaintiff voice and tremendous songwriting abilities out from behind the band’s often raucous instrumentation. If Deal hadn’t announced the upbeat new single “Wait in the Car,” this lineup’s first in 24 years, off a still untitled forthcoming album, we’d have sworn it was a Last Splash B-side. The band also performed two songs — fast and furious “I Am Decided” and the sweeter, more mid-tempo “Pacer” — from Kim Deal’s mid-’90s side project, The Amps, as well as two riveting covers: Pixies’ “Gigantic” (which Kim wrote when she was with the band), and Ed’s Redeeming Qualities’ country ballad “Drivin’ on 9,” also on Last Splash, in which Kelley “sang” the string parts, in the absence of a violinist, to the delight of the crowd.
After teasing the crowd with the opening to the Beatles’ “Blackbird,” the band launched into the Fab Four’s “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” previously covered on Pod and a mainstay of their live shows for two decades. These songs sound at home in Breeders sets, because Kim Deal wrote the first and reinvigorated the others in true Breeders fashion so many years back.
But it’s curious that unlike most other bands they don’t switch it up and cover additional material, too. Anything from ’70s soft rock band Bread is just one idea, but given the unique beauty of Kim and Kelley’s blended harmonies, the possibilities seem endless.
Another mainstay and high point of any Breeders show is the onstage banter between the Deal sisters. In early live performances, Kelley had just learned to play the guitar in order to tour with the band, and each mistake led to teasing from Kim. Now that Kelley is a much more accomplished musician in her own right — she recently received a Gibson Les Paul guitar award from Britain’s Q magazine — guitar “shero” Kim has become the brunt of some of the jokes from Kelley, and tonight, even an audience member.
“Quit fucking up, Kim,” came from a male voice in the crowd, as an obsessive Kim adjusted her guitar amp settings to get her “perfectly imperfect” sound right.
But he was quickly quieted by the collective boos from the crowd. San Francisco loves The Breeders. Maybe it’s because of their musical talent and songwriting gifts or because we still appreciate the novelty of a rock band fronted by three women who have proven to be more than novelties. Or perhaps it’s because we love a comeback story — Kim Deal left the Pixies to put her own creative talent front and center and the move paid off, and both Deals have battled drugs and alcohol and came out the victors. Or maybe we love The Breeders because they love us. They have good reason to. San Francisco has brought the band good luck.
“It’s always exciting to come to San Francisco,” Kim Deal said, mid-show. “We recorded the Last Splash album in the Mission at Coast Recorders.”
But if “Wait in the Car” is any indication of what they’re currently cooking up in the studio, the wait for the next LP and San Francisco dates will be difficult, indeed.