What does it sound like? Nobody knows just yet. But judging from the Breeders' set at the Ottobar--it's probably safe to assume the new songs were those that weren't instantly greeted by raised skinny fists and cheers--new Breeders songs aren't much different from old Breeders songs. And that's a good thing.
Proceeding a bit tentatively at first--the Ottobar stop was only the eighth show of a tour that began Jan. 28 in Albuquerque, N.M.--the Deals soon loosened up enough to charge the Breeders' small but engaging repertoire with a palpable spark. What made the band so bewitching in the early 1990s were its bipolar episodes. Plucky pop hooks got consumed by distorted wails. A melody formed by a simple acoustic guitar strum exploded into dissonant blasts. A happy-go-lucky sing-along was pummeled by percussive punctuation. And over it all, singer/guitarist Kim's child-sweet voice sang tough, off-kilter lyrics about tough, off-kilter women. This angelic-girl charm could splinter into a spine-shattering yelp or soar when singer/guitarist Kelley joined her for a harmonized chorus.
All the pieces fell together surprisingly well onstage. The Breeders--a quintet these days with Jose Medeles on drums and former Fear peers Richard Presley on guitar and Mando Lopez on bass--plowed through the bulk of Last Splash in a little over an hour. Songs with signature opening salvos--"Cannon Ball," "Do You Love Me Now?," "Saints"--were greatly enhanced by the three-guitar lineup, which bulked up the Breeders' sometimes sparse sound with some extra oomph. And the occasional surprise--such as their cover of Nerf Herder's theme for Buffy the Vampire Slayer--prove that the Deals' playful spirit is no worse for the wear that the latter half of the '90s may have dealt them.
Local opener the Oranges Band has a good thing going with its chugging, garage-y pop-rock. Unfortunately, there are more young, zealous, and sincere guitar-powered bands out there bouncing between pop and rock than there are pennies (see the Deathray Davies, the Shins, Q and Not U, the entire Jade Tree catalog). But the Oranges Band distinguishes itself with its crisp pop sensibility, which sounds like a slightly slower, less mad-at-their-parents Hüsker Dü, especially the Grant Hart-penned Dü ditties. (Think "Every Everything" and "Green Eyes" off Flip Your Wig.)
And perhaps the best news of the evening is that a sold-out Ottobar is not a sardine-packed affair. Sure, the new digs recall the old 9:30 Club's three-large-pole room, but thankfully the Ottobar isn't trying to see how many hipsters it can shove into a hot, cramped room. The Breeders filled this space with bodies and a refreshing good vibe. And if the competency and glee that they paraded live is any indication, there may be plenty to look forward to on a new album, should one ever come out.
Unnatural Wonders (7/7/2010)
Soledad Salamé's works become more persuasive through distortions
That Nothing You Do (6/23/2010)
Will Eno embraces the banality of everything
All Eyes on Him? (6/16/2010)
John Potash's The FBI War on Tupac Shakur and Black Leaders offers a different version of the slain rapper
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201