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The Breeders wound back the clock to give The Corner a stunning performance

Frontwomen Kim and Kelley Deal provided a shockingly intimate show.

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Sally Townsend

The Breeders have a history of underrating themselves - around the release of their debut Pod, the band was a side-project, drawing in drummer Britt Walford from Slint under a pseudonym and scraping together the album’s 12 tracks with just $11,000.
 
Both Kim and Kelley Deal fell into playing their respective instruments by accident, only committing to the band following the implosion of their former groups the Pixies and the Throwing Muses. When 1993’s Last Splash went platinum, however, it was hard to place the four-piece anywhere but the biggest stages. The band are avant-garage '90s icons- writing bigger hit songs than the Pixies ever did, and counting Kurt Cobain as one of their biggest fans. So why were The Breeders playing at the Corner Hotel, a moderate-sized venue but not one to match their prowess?
 
The venue was swarming even before the Milk! Records-signed dream-pop group Hachiku took the stage; label proprietors Jen Cloher and Courtney Barnett stood out in the crowd. Singer and bandleader, German-born but Melbourne-based Anika Ostendorf, plied a weightless set of dream-pop with a rigid but simple mid-tempo backbeat. Ostendorf finger-picked her guitar like a bass, giving it a bedroom-esque tone. The tunes were almost too delicate for the rowdy ambience pre-Breeders, though twinkling highlight ‘Moon Face’ managed to pierce through.
 
The Breeders were precisely on time, popping out from The Corner’s red curtain adorned in scruffy all-blacks, like students told to adhere to a colour code. A yell of “Jim!” at drummer Jim MacPherson started the grungy-bounce of ‘Saints’, propelling the Deal sisters and bassist Josephine Wiggs ahead with fervour. The Deals quickly showed their husky harmonies were still unmatchable on Pod highlight ‘Fortunately Gone’, though newbie ‘Howl at the Summit’ stole the early show.
 
“We recorded this one in Kentucky, and some strange Australians came along,” Deal trailed off, as Courtney Barnett and Hachiku came onstage. The ragtag choir yelped the backing words “light it up” as Deal made her metaphysical ramblings.
 
Wiggs was perhaps the greatest comic relief ever put on The Corner’s stage; the English bassist staunchly surveyed the crowd like a teacher in an exam room, intermittently using a bubble-gun to send out soapy water-bubbles.
 
Last Splash and this year’s surprisingly strong comeback album All Nerve served as the bulk of the setlist, forming solid counterpoints; Last Splash is sweeter with youthful groove, while All Nerve is craggier, littered with abstract-aging poetry that’s more wizened than angsty. There was genuine joy emanating from The Breeders’ presence; Kim shrugged her shoulders and smiled with the same jaunt she showed 25 years ago, cackling at onstage mishaps with Kelley. The Pixies comparison might be too easy, but it’s also too apt - their recent reunion tours sans Deal have been wordless album run-throughs, and as the documentary loudQUIETloud shows, it was a joyless dirge behind the scenes too.
 
The quintessential Breeders moments hit whenever Kim played her overdriven acoustic, the heft of the instrument fitting her performative idiosyncrasies best. The energy pulsed through jerky highlight ‘Bang On’, leading the crowd in an unexpected misanthropic singalong (“I love no one, and no one loves me”). When the palm-muted guitar of ‘Cannonball’ kicked in, so did an epiphany - all 850 of us stood, hearing the perfect '90s hit out of The Corner’s PAs, mid-set as if it were any other track. It was a communal intimacy few legacy bands are able to achieve on bombastic stadium-sized tours, and it didn’t even feel like The Breeders were trying.
 
A studio-quality rendition of Kim’s iconic Pixies contribution ‘Gigantic’ closed off the main set. It was fit with harmonies that shimmered brighter than anything Frank Black could ever sing. As if to prove a point, the encore was a triplicate from The Breeders’ three proudest studio albums - ‘Nervous Mary’ (All Nerve, 2018), ‘Do You Love Me Now?’ (Last Splash, 1993) and ‘When I Was a Painter’ (Pod, 1990). As they departed stage metres away from the crowd after their 90-minute set, the mess of ageing punks, enthused young fans, and boozy gig-goers knew they’d gotten lucky - The Breeders were onto the Forum the next night to play with the same enthusiasm but without the same intimacy.
 
Highlight: The genuine joy that drove the band’s performance.
 
Lowlight: The middle-aged dudes in the crowd tapping Jen Cloher on the shoulder to share their unwanted thoughts on the opening act.
 
Crowd Favourite: ‘Bang On’ and ‘Cannonball’.