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Breeders back touring and making a splash

| Wednesday, May 1, 2013, 8:13 p.m.
Chris Glass
The Breeders (clockwise, from top left): Kelley Deal, Josephine Wiggs, Kim Deal, Jim Macpherson

It's been 20 years since The Breeders put out one of the '90s few truly era-defining albums, “Last Splash,” in 1993. And Josephine Wiggs is OK with that.

The band — long defined by indeterminate hiatuses, unofficial breakups and unexpected reunions — will be back in Pittsburgh on May 3 to celebrate a special 20th anniversary reissue of the album.

“When I listened to it back in September — with a view to re-learning the songs — that was the first time I listened to the whole album through, probably, for about 20 years,” Wiggs says, The Breeders' soft-spoken British bassist. “It doesn't sound dated at all. It has a lot of energy to it. There's a lot of chemistry between the people playing on that record.”

Wiggs was the tall, impassive presence playing bass in the background, while the brash, fractious twin Deal sisters (Kim and Kelley) sang and absorbed all the attention. Kim Deal was already a known quantity when they started, for her role in The Pixies, one of the great indie/cult rock bands of the pre-Nirvana era.

The Breeders also had an early champion named Kurt Cobain, who was pretty influential at the time.

After two small-but-influential indie releases, “Last Splash” rocketed the band out of nowhere into sudden ubiquity on rock radio and MTV. In particular, it was the first single, “Cannonball,” which combined the Deal sisters' flawless '60s girl-group harmonies, distorted grungy guitars, and catchy-yet-inscrutable lyrics.

Yet, it wouldn't have worked without Wiggs' bass part. “Cannonball” blasts out of the speakers as Wiggs plays one of the most instantly recognizable and exhilarating bass riffs in the history of rock and roll. It's not a complicated part, but a lot of people are still trying to figure it out.

“Recently, a friend of mine was doing a random search on YouTube and came up with a dozen clips of people playing the opening part to ‘Cannonball.' It was hilarious, because a lot of them, sitting on the edge of their beds with a bass, start off saying, ‘I've noticed there's a lot of clips of people on YouTube playing the opening riff of ‘Cannonball' without getting it right, so I've decided to make my own film.' And they're not playing it right either.

“I told Kim that I want to make a collection of all the different versions of it. I think only one out of a dozen was actually doing it right. Then I thought, ‘No, I don't want people to know.' It's a secret!”

The band toured with “Last Splash” for nearly two years straight, which took its toll.

“I think it really fell apart because, after Lollapalooza in September '94, we all agreed we'd have a little time off — partly because (drummer) Jim Macpherson just had his second child earlier that summer, and hadn't even seen him — that was quite tough for him, to spend the first three months of his son's life on the road,” Wiggs says. “We were going to take a few months off, and circumstances conspired in such a way that we never really got back together again. We didn't know how long it was going to last. ‘Oh, another month has gone by.' Before we knew it, a couple of years had gone by. We went on to different things.

“In retrospect — what a fantastic way to spend a couple of years,” Wiggs says. “It's the sort of thing people dream of doing, and we did it.

“To have the opportunity now to revisit it in some small way is really fantastic.”

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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