There’s a decent argument to be made that Kim Deal has had one of the most free range, “do what I want, when I want” careers in music.

The Breeders perform Saturday, April 21, at Emo’s in Austin. Kyser Lough/For American-Statesman

From a late ‘80s/early ‘90s string of classic records with the Pixies to soon after finding fame at the height of MTV’s infatuation with college/indie/alternative rock – that thanks to out-of-nowhere hit single ”Cannonball” with the Breeders – Deal has spent much of the past 20 years proudly and weirdly going her own way.

That could mean fans would be given sporadic, odd side projects such as the Amps, a Breeders record at completely unpredictable intervals, or the occasional Pixies reunion that was good for nostalgia and shoring up its members’ bank accounts.

Out on the road in support of the characteristically odd but charming album “All Nerve,” Deal and her bandmates – sister/guitarist Kelley Deal, bassist Josephine Wiggs, drummer Jim Macpherson – took to the stage at Emo’s on Saturday exuding a carefree, shaggy sort of energy that quickly meshed with the crowd who viewed the Deal sisters as heroes who have turned a try-anything spirit into a multi-decade career.

• MORE PHOTOS: The Breeders at Emo’s in Austin

That meant kicking things off with a salvo of standout cuts – “New Year,” “No Aloha,” “Divine Hammer” – from career peak album “Last Splash” within the first 15 minutes, moving a near-capacity crowd into singalong ease while Kelley Deal bended her guitar tones with a slide and joined Kim Deal on vocals that switched from a coo to accusatory angst in a flash.

A few words here about Kim Deal’s voice as a featured instrument: It’s distinct, in the most nontraditional way possible. Breathy and distant yet captivating, Deal succeeds at using her voice as a distinct element of sound and as the means to communicate the many vagaries and joys of this human existence. The question becomes whether the songs she uses them to frame hold up, and occasionally on a mid-set tune like “Safari,” it felt like the band was performing a self-important art piece rather than a thoughtfully recorded song.

The Breeders perform Saturday, April 21, at Emo’s in Austin. Kyser Lough/For American-Statesman

Those moments were spare, thankfully, and on the whole the band’s compact 85-minute set was high on energy, confidence and veteran savvy. So much so that running out “Cannonball” in the home stretch before the encore felt like a perfect move. Why save it for later ? Just have fun.

It’s worth observing that the Breeders probably could double their live audience and gate receipts by mounting a well-marketed full album tour featuring “Last Splash” played front to back. Those songs remain anthems to devoted fans all over the country, and it’s the kind of move that many of the band’s cohort of early ‘90s alternative rock stalwarts have engaged in, to much success.

But observing the band zooming all over its catalog on Saturday night, making creative left turns in their pacing and style almost at random, one gets the feeling that a predictable, by-the-numbers live show would feel like creative death for Kim Deal.

And after doing her own thing for this long, there’s no reason to change course now.

Set list:
New Year
Wait In The Car
All Nerve
No Aloha
Divine Hammer
Huffer
Glorious
Dawn: Making An Effort
Safari
Drivin’ On 9
Walking With A Killer
Fortunately Gone
S.O.S.
Off You
I Just Wanna Get Along
Cannonball
Happiness Is A Warm Gun (Beatles cover)
Skinhead #2
MetaGoth
Gigantic (Pixies cover)

Encore:
Do You Love Me Now
Nervous Mary
Saints

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