The 1989 formation of The Breeders, a side project of Kim Deal’s during a lull in the Pixies’ touring for Surfer Rosa, was never meant to have the enduring impact that so clearly remains nearly 30 years later. But nostalgia can be a powerful force, and Portland isn’t a town that’s shy about its love for bygone eras.
The Wonder Ballroom show was sold out as far back as July, which is no surprise considering the fanbase built up over the years. Appreciation only appeared to have grown and gained momentum each time the group reunited in some form or another, having last played Portland back in summer 2013 for the LSXX tour.
The Breeders returned to their seminal Last Splash lineup, consisting of Kim and sister Kelley Deal sharing guitar and vocal duties, Josephine Wiggs on bass, and Jim Macpherson manning percussion. And yes, new material was promised to be in the works.
Once the house music and the din of the crowd began to hush, Chicago noise rockers Melkbelly took to the stage, beginning the first of their five-night tour with The Breeders.
Singer and guitarist Miranda Winters sleepily addressed the crowd, introducing the band before launching into their set. Which isn’t to say they were dull by any means, as they tapped into an energy reserve that seemed bottomless as they powered through song after song.
This was especially impressive given the long drive that had brought them to Portland, and that this was the first time they were playing a major venue here (they played a basement show during their last trip to town, a memory Miranda happily recalled onstage).
“We’re waking up, but we drove 32 hours just to see your smiling faces!”
Their excitement to open for such an iconic band as The Breeders, whose influences can be heard throughout their debut LP Nothing Valley, was palpable. They seemed to only accumulate more and more energy during the set, absolutely exploding into a cacophony during the final song, which was punctuated with a frenetic light show to match.
Miranda’s vocals oscillated from melodic wails to bellowing howls. Her guitar playing was quick and stylish, with husband Bart Winters, and his brother Liam adding dynamic layers to the mix, while percussionist James Wetzel rounded out the four-piece with fast-paced drum work that drove the cool intensity home. His kit featured a blown-out bass drum that could be felt with each kick, like a percussive storm pushing air against anyone close enough to the front of the stage.
To say Melkbelly was appropriately chosen as the openers would be an understatement, given the parallels with powerful female-fronted vocals, innovative song structures, and even a name that seems to invoke infancy, which one could easily guess is an indication that they were formed as a direct response to the influence of The Breeders.
It was a highly enjoyable set with a lot of promise for such a new band, and there’s no doubt they’ll be back in due time.
During the break between sets, the room began to feel gradually more populated, with people doing their best to carve out a place to see the stage within the expanse of the room.
The Breeders were greeted with a packed space full of cheering showgoers, many of whom were old enough to have been fans during the band’s initial early ‘90s run. Admiration for the Deal sisters could be heard from pockets of the crowd, and the opening chords of “Saints” were met with plenty of applause and hollers.
The photo pit was closed off to their set, though the band’s request for no photos was difficult to enforce in the age of smartphone saturation, with screens alight during each song, snapping photos and video clips that would no doubt incite some envy from those who missed out on ticket sales many months ago. The banter was difficult to hear, though the microphone levels seemed to be aptly set for the musical numbers. In a way, it was almost like experiencing the show in a different time and place, and a DIY ethic behind the scenes.
Having had the opportunity to hear the band play hits from over twenty years ago, alongside newer singles like “Wait in the Car,” was a real trip, bringing to the surface emotions I experienced upon first hearing Pod and Last Splash as a teen. “No Aloha,” “New Year,” and “Cannonball” was performed in succession around the middle of the set, followed by their rendition of The Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun.”
The encore included “Gigantic,” one of the few Pixies tracks credited to Kim’s writing, and a personal favorite, and it was clear that Kim and company were there for fans, with plenty of reciprocation to be seen.
As the sounds and feels of the ‘90s washed over old and new fans alike, it was obvious that this was not a show that would be soon forgotten by those fortunate enough to be in attendance that evening.