10th July | O2 Academy
Photos: Michael Brumby
Many would be forgiven for thinking The Breeders had made their last splash with their previous full album, Mountain Battles hitting its tenth anniversary this April. But latest album, All Nerve packs a fresh punch, and if the record doesn’t convince you, the live show should change your opinion. Beginning with ‘New Year’ feels symbolic in a way; it’s a new era for The Breeders and they choose to open the show with one of the most beautiful and brutal songs from their iconic 1993 album, Last Splash that celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary this year.
Never the type to be understated, they showcase classic rock and roll with bombastic effect. What Kim Deal has gained with age, she hasn’t lost in attitude. After a false start on ‘Spacewoman’ later in the set, she sighed and exclaimed, “F**king England!” All the better to have that edge for ‘No Aloha’ a short burst of grungy greatness that incited a sing-along from the majority of the crowd.
As a whole, the energetic set was mostly a mix of songs from All Nerve and Last Splash. They showcased their best moments when they mixed upbeat joyful riffs with the husky vocal from Deal. Take the joyful ‘Divine Hammer’ and the forthright ‘All Nerve’. The bombast of guitars is brought back down to earth thanks to their trademark smoky swagger.
Yet it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Deal’s voice can also hit you with love-lorn weariness and the songs sound almost childlike through the vulnerability. This comes through most on one highlight from their 1990 album, Pod – ‘Glorious’. It sounds timeless; you can tell why Kurt Cobain was the one to champion them in the past, initiating them as openers for their European tour in the 90s.
Only one song, ‘Drivin on 9,’ poses a problem: how can one make a violin noise with no violinist or violin? Thankfully they manage to improvise; Kelley Deal fills in by singing the violin part – ethereal, yet surprisingly similar to the original cut. They amp up the drama in a cinematic way with ‘Nervous Mary,’ pairing tense cymbals and dark lyrics like “she runs for the exit but doesn’t get away.” And lest we forget the catalytic chaos of ‘S.O.S’, with its crashing drums and harsh attack of bass.
They throw caution to the wind with a cover of The Beatles, ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ but it proves to be a risk worth taking. From the knowing smirk on Kim Deal’s face, she knows while purring, “I’ll be your whatever you want,” that ‘Cannonball’ is and always will be a winning anthem. On top of that, it seems to be the number they look like they have the most fun playing. Kim Deal’s face is lit up, and not just from the blue and red bulbs shining down on her.
Tonight contains no obvious winning formula, no big thrills or gimmicks – just rock and roll done damn good. Yet even to call it that feels reductive, as The Breeders have carried their sound ahead decades later and set the trend for newer artists on the scene like Courtney Barnett and Sleater Kinney. Various vocal exercises before songs show the band for what they are, ambitious and always striving for perfection – and who are we to deny grungy punk paired with perfection?