Sunday 19 January 2020

Review: Kristin Hersh

Whelan’s, Dublin

Edel Coffey

There's a quietly expectant air in Whelan's as Kristin Hersh (right) takes to the stage. Hersh, now 43, founded the seminal post-punk band Throwing Muses when she was 14 with her step-sister Tanya Donnelly, who in turn went on to co-found The Breeders and Belly.

Throwing Muses may not be known outside certain musical circles, or even Kristin Hersh for that matter, but, at one point, Hersh and her band were peers of REM before that band discovered a fan base to fill rock stadiums.

It's a long way from there to a small venue in Dublin on a damp night. Hersh's husband and manager introduces her and she ambles on stage in a simple cotton dress and heavy boots, her blonde hair scraped back from her face.

She opens with a new song, 'Mississippi Kite', from her latest release 'Crooked' and ploughs through 'Hysterical Bending' and 'Fish', before returning to her body of solo work with the devastatingly sad 'Deep Wilson', then back to'Speed and Sleep' from 2003.

Towards the latter half of the show, she finally changes gear, loosens up and settles into older material like 'Hook In Her Head', 'Pearl' and 'Your Ghost', which goes down much better with the audience, obviously made up of die-hard fans.

The best material, though, comes from the songs that call for extremes -- extremes of quiet and restraint like 'Sno Cat' and 'Gazebo Tree' or extremes of intensity like 'Dirty Answer' and her final song 'Bea'.

Hersh has opted for an unconventional way of disseminating her music, shirking off her record company for a venture called CASH Music and making her living as an touring artist.

Hersh is an odd proposition these days, with her broken voice and difficult melodies and the challenge to perform songs on her own that would clearly benefit from the support of a full band.

The major flaw here is the semi-acoustic set up. Hersh works best either as an acoustic artist or with a full rock band, not in the MTV-unplugged limbo that occupies the middle ground. At Whelan's she speaks of a planned new Throwing Muses album that will hopefully mean a return visit with the support of a full band.

Irish Independent

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