The Boardwalk, a place steeped in Sheffield musical legend, has played host to giants such as The Clash, AC/DC and Genesis in the past and although the dreaded tribute band seems to have a monopoly on the place these days, it’s still capable of attracting the odd big name.
Which is why a couple of hundred people are stood around on a Monday night awaiting the arrival of one of the true legends of the modern music scene, a woman who’s been around for nigh on 20 years now and shows every sign of getting better and better. Kristin Hersh could probably sell out a venue twice the size of the Boardwalk but tonight it’s a sign of the venue’s standing that it can still attract bands of 50 Foot Wave’s stature.
Firstly though, local band Ormondroyd stepped up. Specialising in Mogwai/Spiritualized-style guitar drones, they showed promise if a certain lack of stage presence. The addition of a rather attractive violinist will no doubt help their cause there though and there’s no denying that songs like Wenceslas and El Potential showcase a big, epic sound. Full marks to the guitarist for producing a leek to play his guitar with as well.
Lack of stage presence is something you could never accuse Misty’s Big Adventure of. From the moment this eight-strong band stroll on stage and lead singer Grandmaster Gareth launches into an acapella song about Christopher Columbus, the audience are in their pocket. When a giant man with his face painted blue enters wearing a long flowing red coat covered in puffed up blue rubber gloves, and proceeds to dance in a Bez-like fashion, it’s possible to believe you’re in the presence of greatness.
Misty’s music is pure and simply feel-good. Augmented by a trumpet and saxophone, it covers all the bases from psychedelic rock, blues, and jazz. There’s not a face in the crowd that isn’t plastered with a big grin throughout their set, particularly on the excellent Home Taping Is Killing Music, Love Is A Story With A Beginning, Middle And End and Evil (dedicated to George W Bush). They’re a band made for the festival season and if they’re not booked for Glastonbury this year then there’s something very wrong somewhere.
When 50 Foot Wave are introduced, the first thing that strikes you is how impossibly tiny Kristin Hersh seems. Then, as the band kick into opening track Long Painting, the second thing that strikes you is how aptly named the band are. You really do feel as you’re about to be overpowered by a tsumani of sound, with Hersh’s ferocious guitar playing complemented perfectly by Bernard Georges’ elastic bass and the solid, driving drumming of Rob Ahlers.
Nearly all the tracks from the band’s debut album Golden Ocean are covered, with Bone China, Clara Bow, and the marvellous Pneuma being particular highlights (the former featuring possibly the quintessential Hersh lyric of “last gasp nymphomania, somehow desexualised/gonna wash that man out of my hair and soap him into my eyes”). Hersh’s voice is less croaky than on the album but still a lot more raspy than those who know her solo albums will remember, although she still does ‘intense stare’ better than anyone else on earth.
She was in a remarkably good mood too – while audience banter remained strictly limited, she was beaming away, almost laughing during one song and even cracking a joke about G-strings after snapping a guitar string during one particularly fierce number. We also saw Hersh’s young son who just wandered onstage with a pair of ear-mufflers, stared at his mother and walked off. “I wish I could be that cute while not doing anything” was Hersh’s wry comment.
There were no Throwing Muses songs tonight, nor any of Hersh’s solo material – 50 Foot Wave are a band in their own right and the set-list reflects that. The hour long set was finished with a three song encore of Bug, El Dorado and a truly stunning Dog Days after Kristin had thanked us for coming out on a Monday. “What else would we do on a Monday?” came the response from a voice in the crowd – on nights like these, there wasn’t much competition.