Summerfest is obviously a great venue to see already huge or up and coming bands, but one of the reasons the Big Gig is special to me is because each year, it gives me a chance to see bands I never thought I’d see live – or live again.
Over the years, Summerfest has made me as smiley as its logo (or Don Smiley) with bands like Devo, Squeeze, Camper Van Beethoven, Digital Underground … the list goes on and on.
Tonight, I finally got to see The Breeders, a staple of my college soundtrack, and in a way, a derivative of one of my favorite groups, The Pixies.
Without going into too much of their backstory, it’s an interesting one. In a nutshell, this is a great band that could’ve been much bigger. Friday night at the Generac Power Stage, fans got a taste of that potential, squandered or realized, depending on who you ask.
Kim Deal has always been one of my favorite bass players, especially live, cigarette dangling as she would stand almost disinterested on stage while Frank Black screamed his lyrics with The Pixies.
With the Breeders, Kim plays lead guitar and her twin sister Kelly plays guitar, too, but sometimes bass, kneeling on the stage, alongside regular bassist Josephine Wings.
Kim still has a dreamy, languid voice, and The Breeders gave her an opportunity to showcase it. Kelley is no slouch, either, and in the early ‘90s, The Breeders’ enchanting harmonies were off to a strong start with their debut album, “Pod,” in 1990.
But then, after their biggest hit, “Cannonball,” off the excellent “Last Splash,” Kelley got busted for heroin possession, and The Breeders’ floated in and out of existence. Which is a shame, because some of the most seminal artists of the ‘90s adored The Breeders (Kurt Cobain said “Pod” was one of his favorite albums of all time), and while they reformed with new members and put out two more records, the “classic” lineup released their first album since 1993, 2018’s “All Nerve.” If you need a more modern reference for how well-respected this band is, they also collaborated with Courtney Barnett. Another one of my favorite bands, The Dandy Warhols, dedicated a song to Kim called “Cool As Kim Deal.”
At 61, Kim and Kelley are still cool as hell, even minus the cigs. And they both looked really happy … which made me happy, too.
“Did you guys just get here?” Kim asked at the beginning of the show. Nope. We were waiting.
Keep in mind that Kim left The Pixies in 2013 (and while this purist author has been blessed to see them twice, I won’t see a show that doesn’t have Deal on bass), so you’ll be excused if you assume tonight’s show was just a recycled reunion tour. After all, The Pixies did that, too, recombobulating in 2004, when they graced the new Milwaukee Theatre.
But even if you’re right, there’s no way you can take anything away from how good The Breeders were – and are. Before every concert review, I brush up on a band’s music, even if I haven’t heard it in a while. I almost forgot how much I enjoyed this group.
Their sound does resemble the Pixies, but it also skews more twangy, spacey and harmonic. Quiet and loud at the same time. Their new stuff doesn’t sound that different from their old stuff, either. It’s both modern and a throwback at the same time. Totally feminine in a ‘90s alternative rock sort of way, but also gritty and occasionally grungy, too. Kim’s crystal-clear voice sounded a little muddy at this show; it was tough to discern lyrics of songs I didn’t know well enough to provide a complete set list (sorry, fans) but I almost got it right.
So, it’s not surprise that the sisters Deal brought out an older crowd tonight (me included). Imagine lots of swaying and smiling during an 80-minute show that should’ve taken place later than 7:30 p.m. And yeah, the only people standing on bleachers were probably the kids of the first generation of Breeders fans, or perhaps those waiting for the next show by the Violent Femmes.
You could tell that most of this audience didn’t know their full body of work, and while I listened to “Last Splash” a lot when it came out, I wasn’t terribly familiar with their later music. So naturally, the crowd lit up when they played hits like “Cannonball” (involving a whistle) and “No Aloha,” which they opened with. They covered the Beatles’ “Happiness Is A Warm Gun” from “Pod,” on roughly Sir Paul’s 80th birthday. The lyrics “I need a fix because I’m going down” were prescient, considering both Deals’ history with substance abuse.
And many of us had a Pixies shiver run down our spines when they covered “Gigantic,” (Kim took the bass off that one, obviously) although Kim Deal co-wrote and sang that song … so is it really a cover?
Oh, who cares?
“This is our first show before the ‘vid, so we’re really excited to be here,” said Kim near the end of the show, and you could tell she meant it.
Keep in mind that this isn’t a band that tours very much. As a headliner, tonight’s show was the first of a five-city Midwestern tour this summer – so getting a chance to see them in Milwaukee was special. They last played here at The Rave in 2018 (I had to reference an OnMilwaukee interview with Wiggs to figure that out), and prior to that, they played at Lollapalooza at the old Marcus Amphitheater in 1994. But best as I can tell, that’s it for Brew City (the guy in front of me saw them at that show at "Lolla" and helped me figure out the tunes I didn’t recognize).
Banter was a little sparse between songs, but not completely absent.
“I had a beautiful day, I saw your wonderful lake,” said Wiggs. “I wanted to swim, but that didn’t happen,” Kim made fun of her British accent a few times, which felt weird.
And, on a significant day in American history, Kim did make one Roe V. Wade comment: “This next song is an old, old song. It’s about an abortion,” she said, before launching into “Hellbound.”
The rest of the show was just a cradle of sweet sounds.
“It’s a beautiful place to be,” said Kim. “Thanks for having us.”
And thank you, Kim. Here’s to hoping that if you are a Breeders fan, you caught this show tonight, because who knows when they’ll be back again?
Mostly complete set list:
Wait In The Car
Happiness Is A Warm Gun
I Just Want To Get Along
Do You Love Me Now?
Walking With A Killer
Drivin' On Nine
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.