Music preview: The Breeders take 'Last Splash' out for a 20th anniversary celebration


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The Deal twins, Kim and Kelley, were sitting on the couch one day at Kelley's house when Kelley had a thought. The whole dialogue went something like this, according to a very animated Kelley.

"I turned to her and said, 'Did you know "Last Splash" -- it will be 20 years since that was released?' And Kim was like 'No!' And I was like 'Yes!' 'No, you're kidding!' Then it was like, 'You know, we should do something.' 'Well, yeah, sure, but what do we do?' 'Well, I don't know, maybe do a show.' 'So, where would we do a show?' And that's how it started."

The Breeders

With: The Connections.

Where: Mr. Smalls, Millvale.

When: 8 p.m. Friday.

Tickets: Sold out.

They each made one call and the result was not just a show, but a full-blown tour celebrating the album that put the Breeders on the map in a big way back in 1993.

"Last Splash" was a transitional record for the band, which started in 1990 with Kim (on hiatus from the Pixies) and Tanya Donelly (of Throwing Muses) as the principles. After the debut album, "Pod," Kelley, initially a drummer, signed on as a third guitarist for the EP "Safari."

When Ms. Donelly left after the EP for a last Throwing Muses album and then Belly, it was Kelley and Kim on guitars and vocals with drummer Jim MacPherson and bassist Josephine Wiggs. The lineup lasted for one album and a few stellar years that included an opening slot on Nirvana's "In Utero" tour and the main stage of Lollapalooza. Soon after, they split off in various directions, never recapturing the same glory.

With its sweetly feminine voices and distorted guitars, "Last Splash" is considered one of the defining albums of the early '90s when alternative rock/indie rock was finally exploding after a decade underground.

"In the decade before that," says the Dayton, Ohio, native, "there was a lot of hair metal and hair bands. That was your rock option. And then your pop option, Paula Abdul was really big then and Michael Bolton was really big then, and those were the charts. It was so wonderful at that period of time, some shift happened where these cool underground bands started to take over the charts. That was really fun."

Kelley was still finding her way around the guitar when she joined.

"I think I had a year and a half under my belt at that time. This was the first time I was in the studio for a long period of time. It was so exciting and so boring," she said of the process. "So interesting and so boring at the same time."

The Breeders' masterstroke in that San Francisco studio was "Cannonball," a quirky pop song with a snaky bassline dancing around the guitar, girlish verses and an exploding chorus. All these years later, it's still common to hear the song used for commercials or sports telecasts.

You'd figure they knew they had something with that single.

"No. Hell no!," she says. "We knew it was cool, but no way would we think that anybody else would like it. It's crazy, the arrangement is quote 'incorrect' for pop music."

You can listen to it for years and still not make out what they're yelling in the chorus.

"Want you, coocoo, cannonball," she says, laughing. "Something really deep."

The Breeders have been off and on through the '00s with different lineups. When they contacted the old rhythm section about reuniting for the 20th anniversary, they got a quick yes and decided to play the record straight through, with an encore of other Breeders favorites.

"Kim and I are huge fans of doing an album from the very first song to the very end," she says. "It's a great idea if you love the record. It's not a good idea if you go and someone is playing a record you're not really into. But if you love that record, it's really fun to hear that. And since we love this record we wanted to play it from the very first song to the very last."

Consider it a throwback to how people experienced music back in the day.

"I think shuffle on a CD, I don't know if that was happening then or not," Kelley says. "You could skip songs on a CD and, of course, you could pick up a needle and change the thing, but typically the album played from the first song to the last song unless you interfered with it."

The full treatment of "Last Splash" requires playing some things they've never done live -- particularly the creaky "Mad Lucas."

"It's very slow, it's a dirge, really interesting and beautiful, so it's great to have the excuse to play that song live. I think if you put that in the middle of a typical rock set, somebody would've been like 'What is this [expletive]?!"

Coinciding with the tour is the release of the limited edition box set "LSXX" with the vinyl album, demos with rare tracks, four EPs, the 1994 live show "Stockholm Syndrome" and a BBC radio session.

The album version is released just like it was in 1993.

"Why would you remaster or remix a record?" she says. "I wonder why. I'm sure there must be a reason for it, but I don't really know what it is. Obviously, if you didn't like a certain mix, you'd want to remix it. We really liked how this turned out, these songs. Remastering the whole loudness and popping that mid[range] so it sounds louder on like a computer or iPhones and stuff like that. Neh, that's all right. We spent a lot of time on the sonics of this record -- the dynamics are really important to us."

music

Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576.


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