It’s been 20 years since the Breeders released “Last Splash,” the album that cemented their legacy in the anything-goes alternative ’90s, and almost as long since the band that made it played together. But if you’re going to celebrate the anniversary, rather than simply exploit it, it’s imperative to reunite the lineup in question. And at the sold-out Royale on Thursday, Kim Deal, Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs, and Jim Macpherson left zero doubt as to which Breeders lineup should be considered the “classic” one.
The band seemed to know it, too. Kim was practically beaming with joyous disbelief the entire time, and the band vibrated with the power that comes with everything coming together in exactly the right way. Playing “Last Splash” in its entirety (with an encore of other ’90s-era Breeders songs) meant dispensing with “Cannonball” two songs into the set, but instead of burning their biggest hit early, the familiar pogo bounce and the thick scratching of Kim’s distorted acoustic guitar locked everyone in.
And they stayed locked in for the most part, whether it was the crushing instrumental “S.O.S.,” the rolling bursts that drummer Macpherson used to propel “Divine Hammer” or the scraping, agonizingly slow waltz of “Mad Lucas,” where the line “You’re a nuisance, and I don’t like dirt” was so drawn-out and quiet that it was deeply unsettling.
That was a running theme, in fact. Most of the songs were built around Kim subverting her own pop smarts, with a dark undertow indicating that something was . . . off. On paper, “Do You Love Me Now?” is a standard pining song. The Breeders played it like a spider preparing to devour its victim.
The band was so strong, in fact, that the few times it fell apart simply underlined the Breeders’ charm. “Shocker in Gloomtown” collapsed after the intro, so Kelley began hammering away again at the single note that comprised her entire part and everyone came back fierce and tight on the second try. With Breeder emeritus Tanya Donelly guesting on vocals, they also had trouble negotiating the start of “Happiness Is a Warm Gun,” and everyone cracked up trying to make it through before ending in chaos, laughter, and hugs. Then came “Safari,” and the Breeders were roaring again.
Wiry but without tension, openers Parquet Courts combined spindly, intertwined guitars with driving drumbeats to sound like the Feelies crossed with the full spectrum of ’90s indie-guitar rock.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spacecitymarc.