The Breeders Play to a Bunch of Breeders: Live at The Bell House, 3/29/13

on Mar 31, 2013

A warmly rapturous opening applause.

Electrified yelps of excitement only minutes later, after the Deal sisters and Co. started from the start with a brick-solid charge through "New Year," when Kim started doing the 'awoooha' opening of "Cannonball" into the white crushed-paper-cup-looking thing attached to her mic.

Later, a man in the crowd yells, "Thank you for doing this!"

Later still, in response to a few audience requests, another yells, "Play whatever you want!"

Tickets for the show had sold out quickly -- within somewhere between two and five minutes, depending on where you read it -- many weeks before, but, even with all that time to get used to the idea of the Breeders reuniting to play Last Splash live, it was still as if the audience couldn't believe its good luck. Twenty years later, one more chance to pogo to "Divine Hammer."

Not that everyone at the Bell House was old enough to qualify for an Alternative Nation lifetime membership. Last Splash's saturated green and red cover may have been a ubiquitous fixture of a specific long gone time and place, but its songs, like most of those graced by Kim Deal's own particular Midas touch from the '80s and '90s, have aged well. Or, really, the album hasn't aged much at all. Its let's-try-anything energy gives it a perpetual youthfulness. In 1993, a life raft adrift in a sea of self-serious grunge, Last Splash was a rare thing; a predominantly fun rock record that also went on to sell over one million copies.

Doesn't look a day over 10 years old
Watching them resurrect the album from start to finish wouldn't have been nearly as rewarding if it were merely a rote recitation. Fortunately, it was the opposite of the monastic backstage vibe seen on loudQUIETloud, the Pixies reunion tour documentary. It felt more like being privy to, say, their third practice back together: some parts here and there were maybe still a little loose in a good way, but overall things were really starting to click, and you could tell they were excited simply to be on the same stage with one another again. The palpable joy and freewheeling banter (Kim confirming with bassist Josephine Wiggs that she could have walked to the gig from her house) was underscored by the pains they went through (swapping instruments for certain songs, having to get a new minimoog for just one bit) to faithfully reenact the record as it was made. The attention to detail showed how much affection they still have for the music.

They don't always ban photography
They must have been taping the show for historical purposes, given all the signs posted insisting that photography would be punished by immediate ejection. After seeing a couple of  iPhone-tographers get shut down, this writer went with the rules, hence none of the blurry from-the-back-of-the-room pics you'd normally find here. However, bigger, or braver, fish took pics: here and here, for two. It should make a great DVD whenever it comes out. Hopefully they will keep in all the songs from Pod (their debut, which is every bit as good as its successor) that made up the extended encore.

Here is the exact moment I decided to love the Breeders: It was the fall of 1993. I was in the car with my dad, driving west along Roxbury Ave. up the hill to our house in Arbor Heights (the name sounds fancy, but the neighborhood was, and is, not) in ass-end of West Seattle. "Cannonball" came on the radio. As we ambled toward the stoplight at the intersection of 35th, my dad made the very fatherly statement, "This isn't even music." 

The thing is, my dad rarely said that kind of thing. Thanks to him, the first music I remember hearing as a child was the Clash and the Smiths. He bought Nevermind when it first came out, as well as Alice in Chains' Dirt. In fact, two years earlier, when we were driving around the San Juan Islands on a heat-baked family weekend trip in the summer of 1991, he cranked up "Man in the Box" on the car radio after I complained that it wasn't musicHis positions had never left me much to rebel against, so I had to take it where I could get it. Asserting my fandom, it might have been the first time I had listened to "Cannonball" all the way through. 

A parting thought: Pacer, the one and only album released by the Amps, is ripe for rediscovery. A temporary outlet started as a way to keep active while the Breeders were short a couple of members, Kim Deal's 1995-96 endeavor received a mixed reception in its day. For an artist from two high-profile bands notable for sounding chaotic and spontaneous, the Amps still managed to come off as a little bit more chaotic and spontaneous. "Tipp City" made it on the radio, but it should have been bigger than it was. Now that all things 'lo-fi' and 'side project' are held in generally higher esteem than they perhaps once were, it might not be a bad idea for 4AD to at least consider a similar 20th anniversary re-release in 2015...


Why so sad?

on Mar 20, 2013
Despite it's name, it turns out that Beach House's "Wedding Bell" would not be a particularly appropriate tune to play at, you know, a wedding. I came by this little nugget of insight a few weeks ago, near the beginning of my (still ongoing) quest to put together some songs to be played at my own wedding.

It started out well enough, pretty instrumental for a processional, check. Background-y reception dinner time stuff, check. Crowd pleasing stuff to get people dancing, check. Selections to be played after the parents and relatives retire for the night, check.

The trouble came when my fiance and I decided that, yes, we would do the whole first dance thing. "Great" I thought, "a chance to pick more songs!" I was so confident that we'd have a hard time narrowing down our choices, I convinced my very patient betrothed to conduct a March Madness style song elimination bracket to choose a winner from among the pool... and that's how I found myself searching for "Wedding" in my iTunes library as a place to start.

I was initially hopeful when I saw "Wedding Bell" bubble up in my search results. We both like Beach House quite a bit, and upon first inspection it seems like it'd be nice to dance to. Then I listened to the lyrics. Turns out this song has a little bridge where Victoria Legrand sings:


Whelp, that won't do. 

This little pattern repeated itself over and over: Think of a song we'd both like, put song on list, get excited, listen to song, realize lyrics are sad and/or full of f-bombs, cross song off list. Now I know why people phone this stuff in.

As I eliminated song after song, album after album, and band after band from consideration, I realized that I just didn't have much to choose from amongst my personal library. At some point, I started to wonder whether this was a personal problem. Is it that I have always disliked love songs but wasn't conscious of the fact until, at 33, I really needed one?

Then, I tuned on the bands. I mean, come on you guys. Shouldn't Songs of Faith and Devotion have one song that's just about, you know, that? Look. We'd dance to The National. We'd dance to Iron & Wine. We'd dance to Modest Mouse! All we needed was one good song about how one person loves some other person AND other person loves them back AND other person is not dead, with someone else, in prison, a zombie, etc.

Oh, Robert Smith definitely gets a point for "Lovesong", which he wrote  as a wedding present for his future wife and is great, it is way too upbeat to be considered first dance material.

How about this. If not a love song, how about just something generally happy that I can slow dance to with my bride? Great, expand the scope. Let's see... nope, not many songs to commemorate my marriage to here either. Like, hey Animal Collective! I hate single you guys out, but by now shouldn't you have accidentally written a song that meets that criteria?

Oh well, It's not all bad news. While the 64 song tournament was quickly cut to 32, then scrapped altogether, we did both eventually find a few good choices, and picked a clear favorite that we're both thrilled with. Once we get hitched in June, I'll reveal the winner, and discuss a few songs that didn't quite make the cut.

Night Falls on Hoboken, Part 1: Chelsea Light Moving at Mawell's, 3/2/13

on Mar 4, 2013
This past Saturday, Hoboken, NJ, officially celebrated St. Patrick's Day. The 'zombie' thing is played out by now, but it's hard to conjur a more apt description of the experience of walking up Washington Street from the PATH train station to Maxwell's than to compare it to the scene in Shaun of the Dead where the gang have to pretend to be zombies as well in order to get down the street safely. Adrift in a swirling bright green haze of staggering boys, collapsing girls, and the dim bellowing of quite-uncalled-for language -- muted only slightly by a tranquil fat-flaked snowfall -- I recalled the first piece of advice I was ever given in New York, by the family member I was visiting back in 1999: "don't make eye contact with anyone."  

If you were hoping for good pics of the show, please see Brooklyn Vegan
Not since the days of Jawbreaker has it been more endearing to see a frontman wearing his own band's T-shirt on stage. Speaking of, the punk and hardcore turns of Chelsea Light Moving shouldn't be much of a surprise coming from a man who immediately changed into a Void T-shirt after his own wedding ceremony. If anything, the prevalence of those turns has been a little overstated. There's the Germs cover, and "Lip," but even in those there are equal measures of appreciation for history and humor in, say, the jabbing riff and repetition of "too fucking bad/too fucking bad." As welcome as a whole album's worth of "Winner's Blues"-type quiet would be, it's a relief that Moore seems still a ways off from going soft.

Live, Chelsea Light Moving sound like a mohawked cousin of Psychic Hearts, Moore's rapidly written and recorded, and rightfully revered, 1995 solo album, which was given an excellent 'Don't Look Back' performance at the first All Tomorrow's Parties in the US a few years ago. When the band encore later with "Staring Statues," a highlight from that album, it fits in to the set seamlessly. That there was a time when "Ono Soul" got played on major FM radio stations seems absurd now, but 98% of the audience at Maxwell's surely remembers that time vividly. 

It's best to pretend that we were taking artsy photos on purpose
One of the funnier aspects of the show is that, for a punk band "from New Jersey" (as Moore deadpans at the start) that's premiering their debut album in a small club, there's a beyond-impressive wealth of talent and experience between the Moore, bassist Samara Lubelski, guitarist Keith Wood (Hush Arbors), drummer John Moloney (Sunburned Hand of the Man). Notably, the veteran Lubelski released one of the finer albums of last year, Wavelength.

Late into the show, Moore becomes talkative, and, awesomely, it diverges into what might be the closest thing to a VH1 Storytellers episode that we'll get out of him - though there's always hope. A guy in the audience calls out to Moore that he owes him a tape of a show from fifteen years ago. After a short clarifying back and forth, Moore recalls the episode and the exact Feelies show in question, and tells the guy to send him his email and he'll finally make good on the promise.

The mood even gets a bit wistful when Moore gives a shout out to Bob Bert, a longtime Hoboken resident and the drummer for Sonic Youth in the formative early-to-mid 80's years from Confusion is Sex to Bad Moon Rising, who is in the audience. He segues from there into an anecdote, also told in the Sonic Youth biography Goodbye 20th Century, about a 'wanted' flyer that the band posted up on St. Mark's Place back in the day that said "Sonic Youth Needs Drummer," on which someone had crossed out "drummer" and written "ideas." It was a jarring reminder of who we were watching: a legend with little left to prove, but still hungry all the same.

 Coming soon-ish: Night Falls on Hoboken, Part 2: Yo La Tengo in Berlin...