Kim Deal is unwell. Kim Deal is damn fine...
Kim Deal is unwell. It’s early afternoon on
of a weekend of challenging subterranean rock, is fast
asleep in her chalet. Last night Deal and ATP curator/Shellac
mainman Steve Albini went out drinking and Kim is
spending the daylight hours of her first UK show since
The Amps toured seven years ago tucked up in bed. She
has left orders to be woken in time for Shellac at 4.15.
Kevin, the Breeders‘ tour manager, is sanguine. “At
least this way she’s not talking”, he observes. The
Breeders have just been on tour in Europe, and Kim nearly
lost her voice; now the consensus is that the longer Kim stays
comatose, the likelier it is she’ll be able to sing.
Kim Deal, it transpires, likes a chat. And a drink. And a
smoke. All three together are even better. And if they come
complete with loud music in the background, well, now you’re
talking. And talking. Kim Deal – as much of the population of
ATP 2002 will testify – likes socialising. At a festival where
the bands walk, eat and sleep among their fans and a boiler-suited
Albini spends the weekend having his hand shaken by punters,
Kim Deal is even more ubiquitous. In the bar. Watching bands. On
the dancefloor shouting at the DJ to turn it up. Signing
autographs. Being bought beers. Strolling on the foggy beach at 6am.
But this all happens later. Much later. Right now, everyone is
tiptoe-ing around, trying to prolong her slumber. Her alarm call has
been revised to 8pm so she can see fellow ex-Pixie Dave Lovering
perform his ‘science magic’ show. Kelley Deal, Kim’s sister and partner
in the Breeders, is whiling away the afternoon knitting. “We’re really
excited and nervous about this show”, she says. “Did you know some guy
on Radio 1 played ‘Off You’ twice during the day? That’s the first
time Kim’s ever had daytime Radio 1 play with any band she’s been in.
And it’s a five-minute dirge!”
While Kim snoozes, Shellac are busy being excellent:
taut, muscular and really rather cute when they pretend to
be aeroplanes. Dave Lovering, meanwhile, is a natural ham in
his nutty professor labcoat and goggles, making things whizz
and bang engagingly. We finally catch up with Kim a few minutes
before The Breeders are due to take the stage at 10.45. She’s
in one of Albini’s blue boiler suits, smoking furiously,
surrounded by Pontin’s backstage paraphernalia. BLUECOAT
SHOWTIME! chirrups a battered piece of blue and silver chipboard.
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“I’ve been so good today!” she stage whispers brightly,
more luminous than anyone this hungover has any right to be.
“I’ve been asleep all day!” Kim breathes. And The Voice?
“Should hold out…” she grins nervously.
It does hold out – just about. During ‘No Aloha’, it’s
like a fledgling bird, gathering strength on the wing. ‘Saints’
is even better, all prowling, deadpan cool. And when the
familiar ‘Awhoooooooooo’ sound foghorns out, heralding the
start of ‘Cannonball’, several hundred extremely happy people
threaten to drown it out completely. Kim’s voice – husky, wayward,
instantly recognisable – isn’t just an instrument, of course. It’s
emblematic of The State Of The Breeders (today Kim, Kelley, and
several members of LA hardcore punk stormtroopers Fear). In it lurks
Deal’s pop genius, something that hasn’t dissipated during the eight
long years it’s taken The Breeders to get a new record together. When
it cracks, bleeds and threatens to give out during ‘Iris’, that voice
is a heart-breaking reminder of everything that’s gone wrong for the
Deals: Kelley’s heroin addiction, the years in the wilderness. And
when it picks its way through that new single, ‘Off You’ – possibly
the most beautiful song Deal has ever written – it’s quietly
triumphant and deeply affecting. “I am the autumn and the
scarlet/I am the makeup on your eyes,” she warbles. We don’t
know what it means, but our legs turn to spaghetti anyway.
Backstage afterwards, the mood is tense, despite
the ATP crowd’s ecstatic reception. The band, their tour
entourage, record company, Albini and a paramedic are cloistered
in the cupboard that serves as a dressing room. The news is grim:
Kim has a throat infection and will have to see a doctor in nearby
Rye in the morning.
The next day, he confirms the diagnosis. On the way in to the
surgery, Kim makes friends with a girl, also from ATP, who’s being
seen for her conjunctivitis, and makes sure she gets the girl’s
friend a signed birthday card. She also goes for a curry in Rye
and meets Cheap Trick, Sunday’s ’70s rock headliners, who make the
mistake of asking The Breeders for a wishlist of songs to play. By
Saturday night, they’ve whittled it down to a list of about 30.
“It’s not just a sore throat, it hurts down here”, Kim whispers,
grinning and pointing to her larynx, while clutching two beers and a
cigarette. “It’s burning in a way I’m not used to. Singing doesn’t hurt,
but I need to rest my voice. TALKING LIKE THIS OVER LOUD MUSIC is what
kills it.” And then she rushes off to dance to James Brown, make some new
friends and hug Dave Lovering again.
Kim Deal is unwell. Kim Deal is damn fine.