Live Music + Gig Reviews

Kristin Hersh @ Scala, London

22 November 2005

Kristin Hersh Sublime. No other word really cuts it.

In town ostensibly to trawl through her considerable back catalogue as part of 4AD’s 25th birthday celebrations, this was the second of Throwing Muses founder Kristin Hersh‘s two dates at the slightly sleazy Scala in King’s Cross. The previous evening had been given over to Muses material but tonight was all about her solo work. No small task given that since 1994’s Hips and Makers she’s produced a further four albums of unique, mainly acoustic, poetic outpourings – there was a lot of ground to cover.

A peroxide-cropped Hersh began her superbly atmospheric set with Sno Cat, the opening track from her most recent album, Grotto. Backed only by cello and violin, she seemed initially a little hesitant, breaking off in the middle of Gazebo Tree with a shake of her head and a smirk: “too many songs!” Fortunately the reverent crowd were quick to offer a prompt and from then on Hersh didn’t look back.

Her voice has grown raspier over the years but it still has a rare hypnotic beauty; her songs just seem to spill out of her, animal, alive. (The string accompaniment, however, seemed to have an unfortunate sedative affect on the crowd; it wouldn’t have killed them to move a little more.)

Hersh herself rattled through her set following no discernable order; hopping back and forth between albums. The highlights of Sunny Border Blue were all accounted for: a drawling Your Dirty Answer, a raucous but tender White Suckers. But it was Hips and Makers that got the most thorough airing; Me and My Charms, A Loon, the wonderful Teeth, and she even found time for the emotive stream-of-consciousness sprawl of The Letter (apparently a “bad song” in her opinion).

With so much to draw from, the endearingly random anecdotes that usually pepper her set were mostly absent, and both Strange Angels and Sky Motel were somewhat neglected. Though thankfully she did make an exception for Hope, giving a performance that caught me quite off guard, bringing unexpected tears to my eyes. I can’t quite put my finger on why; it’s just something in that line: “I never knew that this would be so hard” and her moving, incredibly open delivery.

There were further pleasures to come in the encore as Hersh returned to the stage to play a selection of early Muses’ gems for those not able to attend both dates. Reaching right back to 1986’s spiky untitled debut album, Hersh played the haunting Delicate Cutters followed by Mania and – one I’ve never heard her do live before – the powerful Hate My Way; three of Hersh’s rawest songs and, while perhaps not her best work, certainly her most memorable. It was a spectacular ending to a show that, while it didn’t quite do justice to her long – and still evolving – career, will certainly linger in the memory.

As I said, sublime.

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