Review: The Breeders with potent Bristol Sounds closer

There’s something of an end-of-the-party feeling in the air as the 90s alt-rockers take to the amphitheatre stage. The Ohio band’s set provides the finale to a full Sunday line-up, featuring two stages and a dozen acts, at this year’s Bristol Sounds. It’s the last performance of this year’s event and the closing gig of a seven date UK tour in commemorating the 30th anniversary of 1993 album Last Splash. It’s also the final day of festivities over at Worthy Farm where, yesterday evening, The Breeders nailed a sprightly 18 song set on the Park Stage. Seemingly, the only thing subverting the vibe of all things terminal is England’s unlikeliest of great escapes in Euro ’24 against Slovakia earlier in the evening.

The set opens in top gear with ‘Saints’, a fine showcasing of the band’s spiky guitars, melodic hooks and Kim Deal’s raspingly dirty but agile vocals. As an integral part of Pixies, and someone whom Kurt Cobain once championed personally, the 63-year-old is something akin to 80s/90s rock royalty and – as evidenced by her persistently beaming grin – is still clearly embracing the opportunity to perform on stage. ‘Invisible Man’ is a crunchy salvo of guitars – and twin sister Kelley Deal’s college rock guitar solo – before a simple but gorgeous violin line embellishes the chorus.

“It’s the last of the Summer Series, am I right?” offers Kim who is no way obliged to be au fait with the Bristol music event’s current branding (it’s not been Summer Series since 2016), before the quiet/loud dynamics of ‘Safari’. This dynamic is of course a distinguishing feature of Pixies’ sound and later, by way of influence, Nirvana. ‘When I Was A Painter’ – featuring distorted violin drifting into powerful guitars – manages to execute this dynamic within the same chorus. ‘Night of Joy’ is something more haunting as clean guitar tones and a slower tempo provide an eerie backdrop to Kim’s nicely calibrated vocal.

There’s an immediate cheer of crowd recognition at the start of ‘No Aloha’ which, within its two short minutes, evolves from clean tones to euphoric surges of guitar, while Kim distorts her vocals through the medium of an amped up harmonica microphone. Checking in on the audience, the ever-likeable Kim Deal asks how we’re doing before asking “Any of you guys go to Glastonbury?” It seems to have escaped Deal that, for most, a gig like this evening is very much the consolation prize and there is a deflated chorus of “Noooooo.” She then calls upon drummer Jim McPherson who, because he “needs to work on his people skills”, proceeds to do the rounds of bandmate intros.

“My sister wants to sing a song”, says Kim in handing over the vocal baton to Kelley; ‘I Just Want to Get Along’ is a characteristic in its creeping up from a sparse, bass led verse into a more bombastic chorus and culminates in Kelley executing a pleasing pick scrape along her guitar strings. ‘Only in 3s’ is a ponderous drum groove with Kelley’s economic lead guitar figures and the sisters nicely doubling up on the “Oh Oh Oh Oh” chorus line.

Kim checks in on us again and long-serving bass player Josephine Wiggs informs us that she once lived in Brighton. ‘Cannonball’ a big single from 1993, and the band’s largest commercial success, remains a finely aging indie rock anthem thirty years later. It might just be me but is anyone else surprised that the wailing cacophony at the song’s chorus is actually achieved, not by guitars, but Kim’s yelling into the harmonica microphone run through a guitar amp?

Drivin’ on 9’ – a 1988 song originally by Ed’s Redeeming Qualities – is a beautiful, country-tinged ditty that reaches peak gorgeousness as Kelley’s leads duet with fingerpicked violin notes. Standout Pixies tune ‘Gigantic’,  a 1988 favourite born both out of the melodic simplicity of Kim’s enchanting bassline and a sprinting chord structure, is a welcome addition to the set.

The now seemingly customary “one more song” chant ahead of the encore again looks hopelessly unambitious as The Breeders are quite willing to play four more upon re-entry to the stage. Kim excitedly jumps up and down before ‘Divine Hammer,’ probably the band’s second most notorious tune and an immediate melodic delight. We also hear their cover of The Beatles’ ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’, though its tepid ending has one wishing that Kim would at least attempt to emulate Lennon’s letting rip at the coda.

A Beatles’ cover is as fine a way as any to mark the end of this evening of finalities. June, and Bristol Sounds, is over once more and The Breeders have delivered a potent swansong.

Scott Hammond

Photo by Ellis Scott