The Breeders Re-Splash in Reunion Tour Warm-Up

Sarah McDermott Photography

NEWPORT, KY. — “Hi. We’re the Breeders. We’re gonna play Last Splash.” With that simple statement by lead vocalist Kim Deal, the classic Breeders were back.

In 1993, on the back end of Sonic Youth’s Goo and Nirvana’s Nevermind, guitarists Kim and Kelley Deal, bassist Josephine Wiggs and drummer Jim MacPherson were often written off as gimmick grunge-pop trendsters. Though he gave Last Splash, the Breeders’ second album, a positive review, Robert Christgau dismissively wrote that the Deal sisters were, “unabashed models of feminine weakness, they murmur, they chant, they make a pass at harmonizing, thus revealing the once-ominous tunings of sonic youths everywhere for the benign art-school move they are.”

Last Splash, however, would outlive the smug chauvinism. It was certified platinum, was listed in both Pitchfork Media’s and Rolling Stone’s  “Top 100 Albums of the Nineties,” and sonically influenced a generation of post-grunge alt rockers, including Johnny Greenwood, Deerhoof and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

The show was quite a coups for the Cincinnati scene and for the Southgate House Revival, which seeks to regain its position as the area’s preeminent rock house following last year’s tumultuous relocation. After secretly rehearsing in SGHR’s Sanctuary for weeks, the Breeders chose the room to be the warm-up location for their LSXX tour. It sold out in five days, according to Southgate House Revival proprietor Morrella Raleigh.

“You guys are like our practice audience,” Kim Deal told the packed house, drawing applause and foot stamps. “You’re doing really well.”

And it was heartwarming to see a serious group let themselves have a not-so-serious time. The Breeders on stage were quirky, warm and witty. They played Last Splash in order, in its entirety. After their spot-on, rock-out offering of “I Just Want to Get Along,” Kim Deal looked to her left and noticed sister Kelley and Josephine Wiggs huddled together, whispering.

“What are you guys talking about over there?” she asked.

Kelley laughed. “We’re asking each other how our show is going.”

“You realize, of course, that you’ve just jinxed it,” Wiggs wryly smirked, in an endearingly proper Hertfordshire accent.

Moreover, the Breeders can play. God, they can play. The progression of styles on Last Splash was always startling; they came tantalizingly close to shoe gaze, as a colleague noted last night, on “Mad Lucas,” jabbed at the audience with bright, poppy “Divine Hammer,” then landed a face-melting haymaker of an instrumental on “S.O.S.” They jacked jaws again, live, last night. Help me, Doc — I’d better join the Breeders Fun Club today.

One of the surprises yesterday was the inclusion of Carrie Bradley, who provided violin and vocals on the 1993 Splash release, in the Breeders’ reconstituted lineup. Her violin solo in “Drivin’ on 9,” a Breeders cover of an Ed’s Redeeming Qualities song (of which Bradley was a founding member), was gorgeous and arresting.

When the band finished the album setlist, no one moved for the door. The Breeders returned for a 25-minute encore, featuring bonus tracks which will be included on the 4AD boxed set re-release of Last Splash (due out in April just after Record Store Day) and a cover of the Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”

During the encore, MacPherson’s kick beater fell off, leaving Wiggs to carry the rhythm.

“I liked it,” she deadpanned, song finished. “It was a nice showcase moment for Kelley and I. We may incorporate it.”

Bradley danced – with completely joyous abandon – during the encore, in the choir loft above the stage. It’s nice when your auxiliary multi-instrumentalist is also your band’s biggest fan. It was almost as entertaining to watch her antics as it was to hear the Breeders’ return. From Cincinnati, the group travels to The Bell House, in Brooklyn, where they will officially open the LSXX tour tomorrow night.

New York, you’re in for a treat. Tell Christgau to sit this one out.

Check out our photo gallery from the show HERE.