People — writers, fans, music executives — don't really know what to do with an aging female musician. I'm not talking about someone like Celine Dion or Cher, whose popularity was never based on some amorphous idea of coolness or relevance. I'm not even talking about our beloved Liz Phair, who still plasters short, tight dresses on her meticulously muscled frame and projects an image of socially desirable sexuality. I'm talking about Patti Smith, who was interviewed by Deborah Solomon in this weekend's New York Times Magazine and asked more than one question about her use of conditioner and reigning status as "the queen of split ends." And even more so, I'm talking about Kim Deal, the lead singer of the Breeders and former Pixies bassist who headlined a big summer concert yesterday in Brooklyn to support the Breeders' April release, Mountain Battles.
The Breeders success has always been painted by rock critics as a 90s anomaly. It all started when the Pixies fell apart in the early 90s, which was due, in part, to Kim's mounting popularity. Some say that lead singer Frank Black couldn't handle being second banana, and so Kim struck out on her own, forming a rag-tag band which eventually included her identical twin sister Kelley, who was working as a computer programmer and had never played guitar before. According to Ethan Smith, who wrote a telling and entertaining profile of the Breeders for the Times Magazine when they released Title TK in 2002, "In most musical eras, this would hardly be a recipe for chart-topping success. But courageous amateurism was all the rage in the early 90's. In their quest for authenticity, fans and record executives alike were seeking underdogs to make into heroes."
Well, it's 2008 now, and a love of ballsy dilettantism has been replaced by a vocoder nation. When I arrived at Brooklyn's McCarren Pool for the Breeders show yesterday, I expected a bunch of fellow 90s enthusiasts who remembered when Last Splash was a big hit in 1993 and wanted to worship (and reminisce) at the altar of the sisters Deal. Instead, I found a park filled with 19-year-olds in unholy hybrids of short shorts and mom jeans (see fig. A at the bottom of this post).
It was hot, and even the snuggly confines of the free-booze filled VIP section couldn't make up for the sun's unyielding rays on our aged flesh. My friends and I ended up putting a makeshift tarp over our heads and offering sunblock to scantily clad and quickly reddening youngins like the crazy old ladies that we were. We got there around 3 and the Breeders didn't take the stage until 5:30 or so, which meant that we spent the better part of two hours counting the number of girls wearing rompers (12) and Keds (7) and rompers and Keds (1).
When the Breeders finally came on, we didn't have the energy to push our way to the front of undulating mass at the front of the stage, so we hung back in the shade and listened to Kim and Kelley (fig. B). I was hoping for one of the twins' famous public spats (from the 2002 Times article: "Suddenly the slumber party has become an episode of ''Judge Hatchett.'' Close your eyes and the twins' flat-accented, not-quite-identical altos — a source of fascinating musical effects on disc and stage — sound like one extremely unhinged woman on the brink of wringing her own neck.") but the Breeders' performance was smooth and professional. Though after decades of hard living, at 46 they're looking a little worse for the wear, Kim's clear and femme voice sounded the same as it ever did, which is to say occasionally transcendent. Most of the romper-clad audience didn't appear to be superfans like me, but they certainly appreciated the rock that Kim and co. were slinging almost as much as they appreciated self-consciously watching each other's outfits.
We left early, before the encore, because we didn't want to have to wait in the endless line that would undoubtedly form at the park's exit. I was happy to see that the hipster masses would still congregate in droves to hear Kim Deal, but I can't say I loved the show. I'm too old and cranky to deal with the crowds and the smell and the lines and the rancid portapotties. This was the second time I'd seen the Breeders. The first time was in 2002. What's remarkable about Kim Deal is that through several different band changes and life changes, she's been remarkably consistent. She still makes the same lo-fi, stripped down rock and keeps the same unkempt, fuck-you image that made her a commercial success in 1993. Though critics might not know what to do with aging female rock stars, female rock stars know what to do with themselves: keep making music.
Wait! One more thing. 40something female rock stars keep making music, but they also revive amazing flame wars in glossy magazines with similarly aged dude rockers. "You know, [Pavement's Stephen] Malkmus is being a bit of a bitch in interviews recently," Kim said in April to Time Out. "One thing he said last summer referred to me as 'trashy mouth.' And he just did this article in Spin where he alluded to me unpleasantly, saying [something like], "You know, I always thought that Pavement could have had one of those big hits in the early '90s with ‘Cut Your Hair,' but I guess people preferred ‘Cannonball.'…God, man, "Cut Your Hair" isn't as good of a song as 'Cannonball,' so fuck you. How's that? Your song was just a'ight, dawg." Kim, I might be too old and lame to like concerts, but you're still my hero.
Fig. A: a denim romper:
Fig. B: our crappy, old lady view from the back of the crowd:
Relateed: Rompers, Jellies, And Denim: A Summer Sunday In Williamsburg [Style.com]