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The Breeders

Sisters Gonna Work It Out: The Breeders Live at the Bowery Ballroom, by Jeanne Fury

Name one band that peaked in the early '90s, had truckloads of indie cred, a radio hit, and (here's the kicker) is still around today, selling out shows and kicking ass. If you answered "Bush," I just peed on your Vans. The answer is the Breeders.

It's been nine years since the Breeders' last album, Last Splash. For those of you who have had an ongoing (imaginary) love affair with Kim Deal since she was in the Pixies, you're not alone. It's hard to write about something you love without sounding eccentric or cheesy. But the sold-out crowd that came to see Deal's band, the Breeders, at the Bowery Ballroom, February 9, 2002, testified to her expansive awesomeness. She's a sexy son of a bitch who broke from a pioneering post-punk band and took chances as the leader of her own tribe. Her long, greasy hair, squinty eyes, mad smile, and wound-up intensity were everything I remember them to be from back when everyone wore flannel shirts every day of the week. But, best of all, her shoot-from-the-cocked-hip personality never outshines her idiosyncrasies. She's kooky. Kim Deal is one of the few people who can't wear out the word "cool."

The loudest screams from the crowd were for Kim's twin sister, fellow guitarist Kelley Deal. The advent of her return to the band after rehab was reason itself to celebrate. No shadows of heroin-hell dulled her mischievous eyes; Kelley looked as healthy and psyched as a suburban soccer mom. (Think the complete opposite of John Frusciante upon his return to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.) She accepted a container of cookies from a fan in the crowd. She later spotted a young lad sporting a gaggle of hickies, teasingly mouthed the word "slut" at him, and promptly called the entire ballroom's attention to his neck. Entertaining, yes. Ah, but what would the Breeders sound like after nine years? News flash: after nine years of dealing with the erratic vital signs of rock music, we're lucky the Breeders are still here.

The band – including guitarist Richard Presley, bassist Mando Lopez, and drummer Jose Medeles – opened with "No Aloha," and before long, the antics were abound. Kim admitted her voice wasn't doing so well, Kelley couldn't exactly nail the chords on "Saints," and when Kim tried to adjust the mic, she wound up knocking it off the stand and giggling. With brows furrowed, the Deals were frequently hunched over the set list stuck to the floor of the stage, checking and double-checking to make sure they knew what was going on. Trading impish grins, the sisters were both proud and bewildered. Oh, by the way, if you want to kill the Breeders, here's how: take away their cigarettes. Someone always had one lit, and during every available interval, Kim and Kelley were furiously sucking away amidst a lingering white cloud. Back to the music.

There's a purity that rings out when the Breeders play live. It's like an abstract approach to storytelling, a child-like fascination with odd pitches and warped noise. You can feel the progression, the step-by-step melding process of notes taking place. There's a weird improv feel that lingers even after the songs are over. Substituting sounds for words, Kim smooshed her lips against the microphone and exhaled the "Ah ah aaah ah aaah"s and "Oh oh oh-ho"s that highlight many of their songs.

Songs that brought people to their knees and "I love you"s from the crowd included "Doe," "Fortunately Gone," "I Just Wanna Get Along," "Cannonball," and the Amps' (Kim's side band) songs, "Tip City" and "Full on Idle." The songs from the Breeders' new album Title TK were cranky and loud, true to form.

The Breeders are an interactive band. While waiting for her guitar tech to fix something, Kim (alone onstage) mentioned her uneasiness with New York City, and asked, "Have you been here [The Bowery Ballroom] before?" Not sure who she was addressing, but the answer was yes. Sucking on her cigarette, she raised her eyebrows, "I haven't. It's nice." Another "I love you" from the crowd. Like a soldier suddenly called to attention, Kim straightened up and said, "Thank you" with a tinge of relief (maybe it was exhaustion) in her voice.

Connections are important. But there's a difference between connections with your fans and closeness with your fans. The former is a fleeting encounter that'll make for a cool story to tell your friends. The latter is an encounter that makes a lasting, heartfelt impression. The Breeders know the difference. Kim and Kelley make eye contact with their adoring fans. After the band closed with "Divine Hammer," the Deal sisters stuck around to shake sweaty hands with audience members, sign autographs, chat, take pictures, say thanks and exchange crazy smiles. And like the band itself, their after-show banter wasn't a two-second ordeal. They stuck around. The show's perfection lied in its imperfections. It was rock 'n' roll without the hoopla, without the gloss. It was two sisters regressing through eerie, gravely noise. And they're gonna stick it out.

March 2002

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