Kristin Hersh concerts have two distinct modes. They can be either delicate acoustic affairs or full-on sonic assaults. And like Forrest Gump and his chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. This time we got one of the latter.
I’ve not been to North London’s Koko before – it’s all dark and red and glittery, like being in the belly of a big, gay whale. Petite with tousled blonde hair, Hersh came onstage with her 50 Foot Wave (or Pussy Foot Wave as she’d christened them for the evening) bandmates Bernard Georges and Rib Ahlers and proceeded to attack a number of tracks from new album Learn To Sing Like A Star. Of these, Nerve Endings and Under The Gun benefited best from having the bass cranked up so violently.
In addition to Georges and Ahlers, Hersh also had some string accompaniment. This was supplied by The McCarricks, the brother-sister duo who had played an instrumental set as her support act. A confession: despite not having a drink all evening, the only thing I really remember about it was that they had some super-cool archive footage of contortionists projected on to the wall behind them. Their playing brought another welcome layer to Hersh’s songs though, especially to the rhythmic hypnotic Listerine.
Hersh said she had a bit of a cold, which added a nasal quality to her famously raspy vocals but didn’t prevent her roaring on the choruses whenever it was required, walls of white light filling the venue, the wooden floor throbbing beneath our feet.
While the concert was given over primarily to tracks from the new album, she didn’t neglect her back catalogue completely, unearthing old favorites like Your Ghost, the haunting opening track from her debut solo album Hips And Makers – though this gained little from this more full-on approach. Gazebo Tree, a song she explained to us was inspired by an old woman she met who never left the house “because of what they did to Jesus,” fared far better, and their reworking lifted it to another level.
In the encore we were treated to versions of The Letter, a song Hersh persists in referring to as “horrible,” and the mighty Me and My Charms. It was an enjoyable evening, but on more than one occasion Hersh’s vocals were almost lost in the waves of noise. No offence to her backing band, but next time she plays a ‘solo’ show I really hope she chooses to go it alone.