The first surprise was the ticket, which declared that we had downstairs reserved seats. This was the Shepherd’s Bush Empire and, as everyone knows, it has no downstairs seats. Tonight, however, seats were to be found. We joined the massed ranks of the audience to clap support Stephen Hero off the stage and wait for Ms Hersh, formerly of The Throwing Muses but latterly doing rather well as a solo artist. The word ‘solo’ was emphasised as we took in the set stage, decked with a chair, two guitar cases, a mic stand and a monitor amp.
Did this matter? Most artists would balk at playing at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire solo, with its cavernous stage, massed circles of audience and huge ceiling. Not so Kristin Hersh. From the first moment, deftly dodging the incessant moans of an ignorant heckler, she ruled the stage and displayed her vocal dexterity and guitar aplomb with all the gusto of a hurricane. A sensational set, comprised of many older songs (one or two from her Throwing Muses days) and stripped-down versions of tracks from current album Sunny Border Blue, she wailed, warbled and whispered over the top of instinctive playing of a gorgeous Gibson. As the audience recognised each piece, so a cheer or spontaneous applause would erupt.
Watching her fingerwork, one supposed that Kristin Hersh would be famous for being an ace guitarist, but what makes her special live is the extraordinary range of her voice. One moment it sounds like it will crack and send her into a coughing fit, but twelve songs later it still hasn’t done so and she is still note perfect, adding vibrato or decreasing and increasing energy seemingly at will.
A long set culminated in two encores, yet she showed no sign of tiring despite the pressure the set must have placed on that voice. It was as though she could come back and play three more encores at least – and from the warm, receptive mood in the Shepherd’s Bush Empire on this cold April evening it was only a pity that she chose not to.