"Hi. We're going to play 'Last Splash' for you."
This is what Kim Deal says as she takes the stage of the Bell House in Brookyln last night, as if it's just another gig on just another Friday night.
It is, of course, a very special gig on a very special Friday night. Joining her on stage is the rest of the "classic" line up of the Breeders. Josephine Wiggs to her immediate left and Kelley to hers, Carrie Bradley on Kim's right and Jim MacPherson behind the drums. This is only the second public performance of this line up in almost 18 years - the first being two nights earlier in Kentucky - brought back together to celebrate 20 years of 'Last Splash'. This is a Big - *ahem* - Deal.
Except, in typical Breeders fashion, it's not. The line up that should not exist - between the drugs and the fights and the alcohol and more drugs and more line up changes and losing touch for decades and whatever else they've been through over the years - except somehow it does.
The opening chimes of "New Year" suggest that we're in for a glorified rehearsal - which, if you've seen the band before, is the feeling all of their gigs give, and I mean that in a very good way. It's a bit unsure, Kim's vocals aren't high enough in the mix, and there's a palpable nervousness coming from the stage. However, when the song kicks into high gear a third of the way through, all of that is gone and they are fucking KILLING it and the audience is eating it up, shouting along to each and every word. The song ends and we erupt into a cheer usually saved for after the Big Single - which we all know is coming next - but we can't help ourselves. We're actually here, actually seeing the Breeders actually play 'Last Splash' start to finish - and, it must be said, doing better than they ever did the first time around.
And it continues. Say what you will about overexposure or whatever - and I've gone over that before - but "Cannonball" still SLAYS and is an absolute monster with this crowd. Next up, "Invisible Man", at which point my friend Steve leans over to me and says: "Holy shit, I can't believe they're actually playing it start to finish." But oh yes, they are.
"Invisible Man" is noticeably slower than on album - it wasn't exactly a set regular back in the day so probably required a bit more re-learning than some of the others on the album - but it's still amazing to hear. They've even brought the chimes for the end except Jim misses his cue, causing Kim to tell us the first of many stories of the night about how they brought these chimes all the way from San Francisco so Jim could do the interlude and he missed it so let's give him another chance. He takes a dramatic swoop of the chimes and the room explodes. Yes, they have us eating out of the palm of their hands and we know it, but no one cares. We still can't believe we're actually seeing this.
"No Aloha" is next and it may as well be "Cannonball" again with the massive reception it gets. And now, my moment - "Roi". It does. not. disappoint.
But wait. We notice Josephine is getting behind the kit and Jim has a bass strapped on. What's going on? "Josephine plays drums on the record for this so she has to tonight." I feel like somewhere I knew that but had forgotten it over the years, but it's a total treat to watch Jim out from behind the kit play the bass for "Roi". There's also a story about a mini-Moog that didn't travel well and how Jim is now playing the replacement "mini-Moog" - in quotes, I think suggesting the bass is being processed to sound like one? I'm not really sure what was going on. Oh, and Carrie is playing violin again on this one, doing the chug chug parts at the end of the song on it. Yes. It works. Kelley is thrashing her guitar like a madwoman and I'm in heaven. "Roi" has always been #1 on my wishlist for a Breeders show, and now I've gotten it and it alone is worth the ticket price.
"OK, OK. 'If I saw..'" (hysterical laughter). Whoops, they messed up the beginning of "Do You Love Me Now?" No one cares. There's a lot of onstage discussion to get the cues right, and when they do they nail it.
"This is the last song on the first side. It's called 'Flipside'." (giggles) It's a bit slow - which is odd, because during the 2002 tour it felt like they were trying to play it as fast as they possibly could just to see if they could do it. Slightly disappointing, but hardly soul crushing.
"Kelley sings this one." Yes. Yes. YES. Another obvious crowd favorite, "I Just Wanna Get Along" come and goes too quickly.
Next, the moment of truth - what are they going to do with "Mad Lucas"? On record it's all about the texture and atmosphere - and, let's be honest, a bit slow and go-nowhere for a live set - and friend Nick and I had had lengthy discussion about how we were very, very curious to see how it translates live. (Had they ever done it before this tour? I don't think they had.)
No worries, though - it is fucking GORGEOUS. Carrie played a CRAZY violin to do that scraggling guitar line that goes through the whole song, and the whole thing is just a thing of beauty. It also gives us the best crowd interaction of the night, when halfway through and everything drops out but Josephine's bass for a solid 20 seconds, part of the crowd starts to hoot and holler like the song is over - suggesting that perhaps not everyone there is as intimately familiar with the album as at first suggested - and Josephine shoots a look out into the crowd and gives a hand motion to cut it out, it's not over. Amazingly, it everyone's in a reverential hush for the rest of the song. "Roi" was the one I was waiting for, but "Mad Lucas" was the revelation and possible highlight of the night. Yes, I said it - three cheers for "Mad Lucas". (It does also contain my favorite line of the whole album - "You're a nuisance, and I don't. like. dirt.")
Big Single #2 next - "Divine Hammer", as always, is divine. The second biggest surprise of the night, though, is "S.O.S." which is just a beast. Any hesitation that might have caused them to play "Flipside" a bit slow is gone and this one threatens to get away from them multiple times, but they always manage to hang on. Completely unexpected, but WOW.
Carrie plays some sort of weird interlude/bridge ambient thing on her keyboard as the band get ready for "Hag", the tempo of which suggests that this one is going to be brought down a notch as well. However, Jim clicks in and it's played proper speed and it is wonderful. For the first time of the night, they instantly transition to the next one, and Kelley let's the opening riff of "Saints" fly. The room, of course, explodes once again and it is beyond glorious.
As they're getting ready for the next one, Kelley says something about how the show sold out, like, super fast and thanks us for coming. Someone in the crowd shouts: "THANK YOU FOR DOING THIS" and everyone goes NUTS. There's a definite pause on stage as everyone takes the adoration in. It's a very touching moment and even though it's been apparent all night, it's now very clear that this is a very special tour - a gift from the band to us, but also a gift from us to the band by allowing them the ability to do it.
"Drivin On 9" comes up and we know the end is getting near. It's a bit somber tonight, Kim telling a story about how it was written by a friend of theirs that has passed, and you can see her singing it to him tonight. (Side note: somehow, "Drivin On 9" is one of the only songs they've done each and every time I've seen them.)
And then - oh, yes - "Roi (Reprise)". Josephine and Jim stay on their proper instruments this time and it's only 45 seconds or so, but it is the perfect ending to the set, just as it's a perfect ending to the album. A little wink to the crowd, a little thank you for coming. I really can't put it into words, but it's kind of everything.
They leave, we scream, they come back. Kim talks about the upcoming 'LSXX' reissue and says they're going to play some songs from it.
BAM! "Shocker in Gloomtown"!
BAM! "Head to Toe"! (It's SO nice to hear this one again, having been absent from the sets since 2002. And to hear Josephine KILL that bass line makes it even more of a treat.)
BAM! "Happiness is a Warm Gun"! (OK, not from 'LSXX' but very welcome. Kelley and Kim trade share vocal duties on this one, I forget if they've done that in previous tours.)
"We're going to play some songs from 'Pod' now."
BAM! "Lime House"!
"A few more."
BAM! "Oh!" (I've gone on record saying that this is my least favorite Breeders song overall, but it is wonderful tonight.)
BAM! "Don't. Call. Home!" I knew it was coming, but it still caught me off guard. A total blast with it's stop/start nature - a chance for the band to play with the crowd one more time. At the end, it's just a wall of sound as Kim shouts: "Don't! Even! WRITE!" and everything just stops.
Except, of course, our love for it. The room explodes one last time as Jim comes out from behind his kit and they take a group bow, soaking it all in. We love them, they love us, and they've just given us a performance for the books.
I'm determined to get a picture with Kelley to pair with my picture with her from 2002, so we watch the room. Jim and Josephine come out first but they're instantly engaged in conversation with people, so I don't want to be rude. As we walk around, I notice Kelley come out on to the stage with her coat and purse to grab another bag from the stage and sneak off behind the curtain, so it's probably not going to happen.
That's OK - Carrie is standing in the doorway. Something I forgot to mention - whenever she wasn't playing on stage, she was dancing along to the band as their biggest fan, and it was a total blast to watch. Steve goes: "I want to tell her how much I loved her dancing." I say: "Do it." He says: "You want to see me? OK." So we go over and he mentions to her how great he thought her dancing and the show was and we get in a bit of a conversation with her about the show. She mentions that the stage was a bit small and she had to hold back a bit, and I say well, the stage at Webster Hall (where they're playing in May) is bigger so she'll have room to really go for it. She says, OK, maybe, and I say well look, the show's on my birthday and I'm super excited to get to spend it with them, so she looks at me and says, OK, for you, I'll really go for it.
Here's the thing - on a certain level, there are shows that define you, that feel like they were put on solely for you. Tour packages that you wouldn't dare put together in your wildest dreams because there's no way they could actually happen. For me, this is one of them. Until last night, my favorite show I had ever seen was the Breeders on the 'Title TK' tour in July of 2002 at Lee's Palace in Toronto. Hands down, don't even have to think about it. And while I could never pick an actual favorite Breeders album, 'Last Splash' is certainly the most special to me. So I went in with INSANE expectations for this show, fully expecting to have some of them deflated a little. Somehow, it was even better than I expected. A perfect storm of perfection. I could say: yeah, I wish they had done "Doe" or "Hoverin'" or whatever - and I do wish those things - but there was not a note wrong with anything we did get. Maybe they'll swap some encore stuff out for the main tour, maybe not.
In any case, if you're even remotely a fan of this band or this record, you *need* to get to one of these shows. No questions. This is a Very Special Tour by a Very Special Band, a Very Special Gift to the fans. You will regret not going, this I promise you.