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Blast From the Near Past

Breeders
Jim Greer

Once and Future Breeders: A recent version of the Amps featured the core of the new Breeders: from left, Nathan Farley, Kim Deal, Luis Lerma and Jim Macpherson.

The return of the Breeders recalls an era of modesty and commitment in rock

By Gina Arnold

AT THE END of last year, I spent some time holed up in a remote log cabin on the Monterey peninsula. It was so very boring that most nights I rented videos, but one day, I opened the newspaper and damned if it didn't say the Breeders were playing at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz on the night before New Year's Eve.

Of course, I was convinced it would turn out to be some ignorant college-kids' reggae band, but to my astonishment (and delight), it turned out to be the Breeders: the fab four-piece led by ex-Pixie Kim Deal, playing an underpublicized warm-up for a Bay Area New Year's gig opening for Primus.

"Wow, the Breeders!" a friend of mine emailed me when I sent him the glad tidings. "Now, there's a blast from the past."

And I know just what he meant. Although the band's one hit record, Last Splash, only came out in 1993, it does now seem like the Breeders hail from another era entirely. Their music--classic lo-fi, sloppy indie rock--is already a little dated. Somehow, they had faded out of my brain, leaving only lead singer Deal's grin behind, just like Alice's Cheshire cat.

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Breeders Online:

Official Elektra page for the band.

Official Breeder's Internet information resource.

A Breeder's fan page.

A fan page about the Pixies.

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The grin reappeared, however, on the night they played the Catalyst. It was attached to a girl dressed in tennies, pajama bottoms and a shapeless polyester sweater that was buttoned up wrong and had all her crap--wallet, set lists, guitar pick, effects pedals--crammed bulkily into its breast pocket. The second I saw that grin, I was filled with nostalgia.

Patti and Chrissie notwithstanding, I was always turned off by women in rock bands until the first time I saw Kim Deal. Cute, talented, un-self-conscious and un-vain--jeez, in retrospect, I can see why I've subsequently been so disgusted by the Poes and the Jewels of this world, with their constant "Boys are being mean to me!" wail!

Unlike many of today's women in rock, Deal has always said she's not a feminist. This is a woman, you'll please remember, who recorded her first two albums with the Pixies under the moniker "Mrs. John Murphy," which was then her legal name. But for all that, she is the ultimate example of someone who walks the walk. Both in the Pixies and the Breeders, she redefined for me the ideal of women in rock, putting dignity into a role that has--both before and since--had very little to recommend it.

American as a Buick

DEAL WAS ACTUALLY given short shrift in the Pixies. She was invariably overshadowed by front person Black Francis (who now records under the name Frank Black). When that band broke up in 1992, she went immediately to work on her own band, the Breeders, which she augmented with her identical twin sister, Kelley, whom she first had to teach to play the guitar before letting her join the band. (The first version of the Breeders, pre-Pixies breakup, consisted of Deal and the Throwing Muses' Tanya Donnelly, who went on to form her own band, Belly).

Like Chrissie Hynde, Deal comes from Ohio and is as American as a Buick. She once wrote a song ("Saints") about her love of county fairs. "I like all the different people, I like sticky everywhere; look around, you can bet I'll be there!"

You wouldn't catch Chrissie Hynde dead at the King County anything, but Kim, clutching a hot dog in one hand and a pink stuffed walrus in the other, would fit right in. Despite suffering from a perpetual bad hair day, Deal pours forth the kind of focused artistic self-confidence that very, very few of today's rock artists can make any claim to. She's like the perfect cross between Keith Richards and Doris Day.

Like Day's, Deal's voice has a sweet, breathy theatricality. But the music is more raucous, combining as it does swooshy, angelic harmonies with great little riffs, echoey reverb and deliberately measured tempos that occasionally explode. Meanwhile, the Breeders' lyrics are evocative fragments--silly, personal images that sound more like poetry than song. "Summer," she sings on "Saints," "is ready when you are." And "I know you, little libertine. I know you; you're a real cuckoo!"

Given the short-shrift Deal received in the Pixies--back in the bad old days of 1987--it's kind of affirming to know that the Breeders' second album, Last Splash, generated a far bigger hit than the Pixies ever garnered.

But for some reason, conventional success has never seemed to sit well with Deal. When the Breeders landed a good slot on the main stage of Lollapalooza 1994, their performance there seemed desultory and lame. The next year, with her beloved sister grounded by drug problems, Deal renamed the band the Amps, put out a record called Pacer, and melted back into the underground, where she seems to feel more comfortable.

The Art of Artlessness

THE BREEDERS have just resurfaced as a five-piece outfit, consisting of Kim, Jim (Macpherson) and three new players named Nate, Luis and Katie (Katie is the new Kelley, another petite, brown-haired girl from Dayton), which is essentially the live lineup of the Amps.

According to Elektra, they've just taken a bit of time off from recording in order to play a brief national tour, and my advice is not to miss it (they appear Wednesday at the Cactus Club in San Jose). At the Catalyst show in December, they played a brief but satisfying set, drawn from Pod, Last Splash and Pacer, as well as some great, untitled new songs that the band is planning on including in a fall or winter release.

It all sounded great to me, but most impressive, somehow, was the quiet, country-tinged "Drivin' on 9," a song that shows Deal for what she is at heart: immensely likable, talented, thoughtful and deep. That Breeders show reminded me of olden times--a good five, six years ago, before the alt-rock explosion of '92­93 and the electronica hooha of 1997--when bands like the Breeders were simultaneously more arty and more artless, modest in their commercial expectations and deeply committed to their strange personal visions.


The Breeders play Wednesday (May 14) at 9pm at the Cactus Club, 417 S. First St., San Jose. Tickets are $12 adv/$14 door. (408/491-9300)

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From the May 8-14, 1997 issue of Metro

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