The Breeders' "Cannonball" has been an inescapable presence on college and alternative radio for months now. Its ingeniously interlocking arrangement of lurching bass, powerful drum fills, oddly chirped vocals and woozy waves of lead guitar give it a vivid identity as a record.
On stage at the Palace on Friday, though, the Breeders de-emphasized their hit's intricacies and eccentricities, transforming it into a party anthem for the dance-floor faithful.
That pretty much typified the performance approach of the Breeders, a band that's helped make the world safe for weirdness but appears hesitant to be weird on stage.
You'd think the Ohio-based foursome would have the confidence to take it to the limit after moving so quickly to the front of the new-rock pack--its two weekend shows at the Palace marked a significant growth in drawing power from its Troubadour show six months ago.
The underground prominence of key members Kim Deal (then with the Pixies) and Tanya Donelly (Throwing Muses) was helpful when the band got going as a part-time side project five years ago, but you have to credit this recent growth spurt to music, not to credentials.
Deal's twin sister Kelley (a partner of Kim in an early, pre-Pixies version of the Breeders) has replaced Donelly, who took along some of the group's buoyancy when she left to form Belly. With holdover Josephine Wiggs on bass and new drummer Jimmy MacPherson, the Breeders now have the feel of a solid, inventive unit.
So do they want to be a bar band or an art band?
The Breeders come armed with a distinctive set of conflicting influences, from surf and British Invasion pop to free-form experimentation with trace elements of Sonic Youth and the Pixies.
These extremes rub against each other to create the band's defining friction. Their soaring tunes and sentiments are constantly subverted by odd time signatures and spiky textures. The result is a queasy, off-center feel, a blend of humor and ominousness that gives them a disquieting edge.
Maybe it's too tough to reproduce all those elements on stage, or maybe they're just not interested in challenging their audience. In any case, the Palace show presented a more straightforwardly rocking side of the Breeders.
They aren't a personality band--the most novel visual element was the sight of the identical Deals both puffing their cigarettes at opposite sides of the stage. They also generated a friendly, chatty presence and some playful verbal and physical sparring between the members.
Kim mainly played driving rhythm guitar and did the talking while lead guitarist Kelley applied off-kilter leads with a certain punk-derived naivete. On record their vocals can be tart and sharply defined, but here the sisters' close harmonies often made it sound like one thick, raspy voice stirred into the swirl.
Fair fun as far as it went, but at this point the Breeders aren't really doing themselves--or their audience--justice.