Josephine Wiggs is a founding member of the Breeders, who are currently on tour in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the classic Last Splash. She has released two solo records and, with Luscious Jackson’s Vivian Trimble, made the critically acclaimed Dusty Trails and composed music for Brad Anderson’s film Happy Accidents. In 2013, Wiggs wrote and recorded the score for Built on Narrow Lands, a documentary about Modern houses in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. You can follow her on Twitter here and her website is here. (Photo Credit: Peter Ross)
In June of 2012, I was in a coffee shop in Brooklyn when Kim Deal texted me, wondering if I’d be interested in getting together with her, Kelley and Jim Macpherson to play Last Splash again, in celebration of the album’s 20th anniversary. At that moment, “Invisible Man” began playing on the store’s mixtape.
After making the first Breeders album Pod in 1990, we never toured, whereas the Breeders’ second incarnation started touring in ’92, recorded Last Splash and were on the road until 1994’s Lollapalooza, after which we took a break. We never got back together.
I met Kim again in 2004 at a Pixies reunion show, and over the next eight years spent some time with her and Kelley on a handful of occasions. It was fun to reconnect with them. I had seen Jim only once, when he was playing with Guided by Voices. And so in October 2012, 18 years after we last played together, I flew to Dayton, Ohio.
Prior to unexpectedly finding myself taking part in one, I have to admit to ambivalence — yes, even negative feelings — about the reunion tour phenomenon. After some thought I realized that this is because the word “reunion” is tainted by many unfortunate associations, perhaps especially when conjoined with the words “high school.” Anyone who knows me will not be surprised to learn that I have never been to a reunion of any kind, but their primary feature seems to be the stress of being judged by people you haven’t seen in, let’s say, 20 years, and with whom all you had in common was a) going to the same school and b) being a teenager. Worse still, when “reunion” is paired with “tour,” the Beach Boys unavoidably come to mind: a stage spectacle featuring pre-recorded vocal tracks and film footage to stand in for several now-deceased Beach Boys and an eight-piece band comprised entirely of the musician offspring of said Boys. Needless to say, all this leaves an unpleasant taste.
Luckily, all the members of the Breeders are still alive, by some miracle (and I mean that), though don’t imagine that we haven’t got our eyes on 19-year-old James Macpherson, Jr. should something unfortunate happen to Jim.
I’m going to suggest that the “n” word — nostalgia — need not necessarily be invoked. I walked into a shoe store last week and the music they were playing caught my attention in a way that rarely happens. Instead of looking at shoes, I listened, and then I realized it was Nirvana. Should I have felt nostalgic? Is there even a place for nostalgia since iTunes, with songs from 20 years ago co-existing with contemporary indie-rock in a perpetually accessible present in a way that “old” records, pre-iTunes, could not? “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? The latest from Arcade Fire? Both are right at your fingertip [sic]. It’s all current, especially with the energy of the early ’90s nestled right there in the sound of present-day indie-rock. Maybe this is one reason there are so many reunions from that era.
Of course “reunion tour” describes a variety of scenarios. Maybe a band has new music, maybe not. Perhaps they’re performing a specific album. Often it’s all original members, but sometimes as few as two — perhaps tricky when the thing that makes for a good reunion is often the same thing that makes for a good band: chemistry.
And chemistry is why I’d immediately said “yes.” Having reconnected with Kim and Kelley — and joining them for two shows in 2005 for 4AD’s 25th anniversary in London — I knew it would be fun to play these songs with them again. And I always love playing with Jim. Of course, I knew that this tour would not feel the same as playing two sold-out nights at CBGB on our first tour, or being on the road with a newly minted platinum album, and a video showing ten times a day on MTV. But it is exciting to play Last Splash with Kim and Kelley and Jim, and make clear that the album, and this line-up, mean a lot to a lot of people.
That Pixies in 2004, or My Bloody Valentine in 2008, were touring again was testament to the fact that this music, and these bands, still sound so good that they can sell out shows, and play for an audience who never saw them before. Some fans waiting at our backstage door say things like “I saw you at the Melkweg in ’92,” or “I saw you on Lollapalooza.” But others say, “I first heard Last Splash when I was nine,” or “I wasn’t even born in 1993!”
My last experience of touring with the Breeders was Lollapalooza ’94: three months of being marooned in the middle of various fields the length and breadth of the United States. The Breeders coped with this variously: Jim by obsessively watching the drummers of every other band, Kelley by doing bad things with the Bad Seeds, and Kim… I actually have no idea what she was doing. Meanwhile, Breeders violinist Carrie Bradley and I passed the time learning four-handed juggling.
Back then, it didn’t matter if you were five minutes late for lobby call — because Kim and Kelley wouldn’t show up for another 25. These days, they are invariably early, and it is Carrie and I who are late.
It’s been unexpected, spending the year with these people, playing these songs again, hanging out, reminiscing a little, laughing a lot. Oh, wait a minute… Seems like I finally attended a reunion. Goddammit.