A Breeders concert caps a perfect evening on Grace Cathedral Hill
There’s something about this part of the city that puts you in an indelible mood. You’re on perhaps the highest perch in San Francisco when you sweat to the top of Grace Cathedral Hill, your reward the comforting glow of the half-light on a lazy Sunday evening. There’s a cozy Italian cafe nearby emanating delectable smells of pesto and pizza.
Maybe it was the way Colin Meloy immortalized it in his dreamy song Grace Cathedral Hill for The Decemberists. It wound into the nerve endings of yours truly, who’s grown up here since age 3. It is perhaps my favorite anthem of this city, and it seems perfect that it was created by a kid from Montana.
Now, I have a new one. Off You, by The Breeders, which I first heard (yes, I’m late to the party on everything cool) toward the start of Spike Jonze’s film Her, when Theodore Twombley asks his Siri feature on his futuristic phone to shuffle to different melancholy song. The Breeders were playing the Masonic on Sunday night, and I’d lazily wound my way into it after drifting about this side of the city for a good hour. It was a great show, with a mosh pit punctuating it toward the climax, but what made it unforgettable, for me, was this simple, brilliant, intoxicating song Off You.
Kelley Deal, aligned to the right of her sister Kim on the stage, took up the bass for it and kneeled so she could follow along to sheets with the chords she needed to play. Jim MacPherson, on drums, didn’t even need to use his instrument, simply tapping his sticks to his thighs. Through it all, Kim Deal serenaded us into a spell of deep contentment.
This is a band from Dayton, Ohio, as Kim noted repeatedly throughout the evening’s hour-and-thirty-minute-long set, with Josephine Wiggs, the bassist (who’s from England) interjecting in that quintessential deadpan form of hers that yes, she does consider herself to be from Ohio, now. This song had nothing to do with San Francisco, so to speak, but that’s part of why it worked so well, for me, on this particular evening. It had everything to do with the mood I found myself in.
A mood that was ready to drift and dream, and about halfway through the song I noticed that I’d snapped up out of a reverie. Trance-inducing, it was. It has become one of my anthems of the city, because just as that lazy evening spent meandering the alleyways of downtown San Francisco put me in the perfect mood for the concert, this song was the icing on that particular, proverbial cake.
Why music affects us the way it does, often in such a singular fashion, has been debated for decades evermore. I don’t think anybody else had the particular experience I did with Off You, because they didn’t walk the places I had beforehand. And this is part of the beauty of the concert experience, particularly with a band as fucking good as The Breeders.
Each of us members in the audience brought different memories and experiences with us as we walked through the doors. Each of us heard the music in his or her own way. But for those few minutes that Off You was performed, we were joined as one in rapt attention.
Then, the spell is over, and we go home. Each of us will remember it in a particular, intimate way. Music is so beautiful, sometimes, it hurts.