Ohio’s Tweens Confident Beyond Their Years

photo by Ashley Ross
photo by Ashley Ross

It’s been a busy week and will be for a while, so I wasn’t planning to review The Breeders’ Vancouver show on their Last Splash 20th anniversary tour, especially since I was still wrapping up a Gary Numan/Cold Cave review from the previous night. But although I realize it’s a bit unconventional, even backwards, to focus a review on the opening band or even write a review because of the opening band, the young, little-known trio Tweens, from Cincinnati, Ohio, impressed me so much, I just had to let people know about them.

I’d only heard Tweens’ song “Don’t Wait Up” prior to having seen them, and it was good: catchy, fuzzy, with a pop undertone – very ‘90s. It definitely gave me more to look forward to that night.

For a band whose appeal was largely low-fidelity, Tweens surprisingly didn’t lose any steam live. At all. That was because underpinning production values (or lack thereof) were just good fucking rock songs. Catchy as they were, they never stayed too predictable either. And while some bands successfully hide the fact that they only have one guitar solely through skilful playing, it was glaringly obvious just by listening that singer Bridget Battle was on her own on the six-string. But she stood tall and made it work, the discord of her guitar-work giving the instrument a more pronounced presence rather than smoothing in alongside the rest of the band’s sounds.

As Battle held her own, she cried with yappy energy, and drummer Jerri Queen turned into an animal at his kit, lashing out his tongue and his long earrings bouncing like long canines hanging from his lobes. The first and second songs after “Don‘t Wait Up” (“Want U” and “Girlfriend”, according to the set list) were the only times bassist Peyton Copes really shone, though.

Tweens are right in calling their music “trash pop”; it’s dirty and well-informed, rocking like the Gun Club while making you feel good like the Shangri-Las (both self-professed influences). Tweens exited the stage, Vancouver being their final show with The Breeders, and I quickly added the first paper plate to my setlist collection.

As I’ve said, The Breeders are currently touring in celebration of 20 years of their most popular album Last Splash. Like The Dandy Warhols, who had similar reason to celebrate a couple of months ago, The Breeders were at least playing Last Splash in full. But what many attendees may not have known (including yours truly) was that their Vancouver show, August 31, 2013, landed exactly on the album’s twentieth birthday. So the show was as big of a celebration as they were going to have/anyone was going to get.

The Breeders were great, of course: rock-solid; so tight, air couldn’t have escaped. But where they were good was also where they fell short: the problem with so many of these shows where bands recite entire albums is that the performances can end up being predictable and rigid. It helps when bands, despite following the scripts that are their albums’ track lists, go off the rails a bit and jam out or improv otherwise. While doing so arguably defeats the purpose of recreating albums live, at least there is an organic element.

After somewhat dry renditions from Last Splash, The Breeders and crowd livened up a bit more during the two sets of encores from the rest of the band’s discography. Free of restrictions, things got rowdier, as audience members jostled one another (it was strange seeing the far older fans going much harder than all the young’uns for once), and there was a greater sense of looseness in the ways the band carried on together and with the crowd. I think standing so close to Fortune Sound Club’s “best sound system in Vancouver” at Gary Numan hampered my hearing though, because I couldn’t for the life of me make out any of the Breeders’ banter, including when the band seemed to have debated some question a woman next to me asked bassist Josephine Wiggs.

Overall, despite nothing flashy, nothing too energetic and no surprises, The Breeders were still good. How could it not have been if they were playing Last Splash in full and then some? And a band has to be pretty damn good if it can motivate me to write when I don’t intend to, and Tweens fucking killed it with six fists swingin’.

On a personal note (and maybe for posterity), it apparently pays to mention to strangers that you collect set lists, because you never know when they may feel generous. For once, I was the one receiving a set list instead of giving it away. Big, big thanks, anonymous dude who drove from the Island exclusively for the show and, unless his plans changed, spent the night in his jeep – and who most likely parted with his set list because The Breeders took his poster backstage and returned with it fully autographed.

Leslie Ken Chu

Leslie Ken Chu