Last Splash Leaves Lasting Impression

Julian Ring, Staff Writer

When Last Splash came out in 1993, many couldn’t believe how far The Breeders had come since their formation.  After releasing the well-received Pod just three years earlier, Kelley Deal had joined her sister Kim’s fledgling side project on a whim despite never having touched a guitar.  What had begun as a distraction for Kim during time off from her stint as the bassist for The Pixies was now an actual band which, by that summer, was opening for Nirvana on its European tour.

The ball kept rolling as The Breeders released “Cannonball,” the beefy, scatterbrained single from their sophomore LP and the song that allowed them to rule the airwaves that year.  Last Splash quickly became the band’s most lauded album and their highest stateside seller.  Critics and fans agreed that Kim had outgrown her beginnings holding down the low end and had graduated to frontwoman, with honors.  Visibly uneasy with commercial stardom, however, Kim and her crew never seemed to relish the fame they had rightly earned.

As the 20th anniversary of Last Splash approaches, The Breeders are finally cashing in on that success and showing some love for their disjointed blockbuster.  Paired with a monstrous seven-disc vinyl reissue of the platinum LP courtesy of independent record label 4AD, the band has embarked on a celebratory tour, playing the album in its entirety at each stop.  Their kickoff show last Thursday night at the ’Sco was brimming with Breeders devotees, Pixies fans and lots of out-of-towners hoping to catch a glimpse of the band in its 1993 iteration, which included drummer Jim McPherson of Guided by Voices, bassist Josephine Wiggs and violinist/keyboardist Carrie Bradley alongside the Deal sisters.

As a coterie of aging rockers, The Breeders wore the look that befits countless ’90s reunion acts and makes us all feel old (20 years already?), but their nostalgia trip was undertaken for all the right reasons.  The quintet’s crusade of rediscovery through Last Splash affirmed that, as one drunk fan shouted midway through “Cannonball,” “Man, they’ve still got it!”

Kim and her cohorts emerged to squeals of recognition, burning through “New Year” in under a minute so as to begin “Cannonball” as soon as possible.  The beat-driven thunder of McPherson’s heavy-handed drumming was just as chest-pounding as on record, while the interplay between Kim’s overdriven acoustic and Kelley’s spacey bends built the prechorus to a near frenzy — and made the roller-coaster resolve all the more thrilling.  “I’ve got my quiet guitar on,” Kim later joked, all smiles.

The crowd also delighted in the band’s preservation of immaculate details from the album in their set; Wiggs covered drum duties on “Roi,” just as she did in that Dayton, Ohio studio.  Bradley also performed the string parts on many songs faithfully, but her contributions were more fully realized on the slower tunes that make up side B, namely the countrified saunter of “Drivin’ on 9” that had the crowd singing along.  Periodic insights into the album’s recording process from all members — the origin of a synth sample, the bluesy genesis of Kelley’s “I Just Wanna Get Along” — infused new life into these road-worn songs.

Last Splash’s subtle nod to a number of genres was a strength that translated well into a live setting.  The instrumental “Flipside” presented a rendering of Dick Dale’s surf rock wondrously messed up by aggressive tremolo.  Likewise, songs like “Divine Hammer” hinted at the era of indie to come with their unmistakable echoes of Belle and Sebastian.  The band dished out a mix of wailing solos and punk fury to milk every dramatic moment from the album’s 15 tracks, and when they tired of those, they delved into the rest of their catalog.  A highlight: their heavier-than-lead cover of “Happiness Is A Warm Gun.”  When Kim, voice dripping with red-hot sensuality, crooned the words “I need a fix ’cause I’m going down,” a collective shiver rippled up hundreds of spines.  Those in the audience were almost scared to sing along.

Above all, The Breeders looked like they were having the most fun of anyone present.  Well, kind of.  Kelley and Kim’s surreptitious glances captured the ethos of a band that is proudly embarrassed to be playing these songs 20 years later.  To the die-hards craning their necks for fear of missing a single moment, it wouldn’t have mattered if it had been double that; just hearing “Cannonball” in all its live glory would have been worth staying out late on a Thursday night for.  Whether or not they felt ridiculous rehashing their old material, The Breeders’ best album has aged just as well as its writers.