I discovered Kristin Hersh, as most do, through her work with Throwing Muses, the first American band ever signed to 4AD records. Their first album is a beautifully dark, C86 antichrist record – together with half-sister Tanya Donnelly (also guitarist and vocalist) and a thrashing rhythm section, Hersh spins vile tales of woe and gorgeous slices of melancholia.
Her solo material, it transpires, is very similar. Admittedly it’s sparser, but that’s a curiously successful thing. At Exeter’s Phoenix, on November 9th, in front of a seated audience, Hersh perches on the edge of a plastic chair, cradling a thinline Telecaster and whispering witty little remarks to the humbled spectators. She’s a magical presence, Hersh – a single spotlight illuminates her little figure, whose sweet unassuming size is entirely at odds with the aggressive mastery of her playing; tricky picking, warm electro-acoustic buzzing and a shredded vocal, hoarse from decades of winsome wailing.
Every song is new to me, but that never matters. Each is a saccharin weave of contortionist notes, nonconformist poetry and husky charm; some sad, some angry, some funny – some, plain pained. Intermittently, Hersh converses loosely with her fans; other times, she reads poems from the books that have innovatively comprised her past few solo albums (as well as providing sweet inception anecdotes to appease those particularly hungry for her extremely personable work).
Particular highlights were her winding cover of the folk standard, Poor Wayfaring Stranger and the dynamic Mississippi Kate (look for the ‘singed nuts’ in this strange story). Her encore was also excellent, especially the track Between Piety & Desire – awesome chord progression, sweet riff, great vocal, fantastic lyrics. I can’t really put into words what works so well here – just check it out.
It’s all too easy to go and see someone play live, leave, and say – “yeah, he/she was great”. I’ve actually been a little slow getting this review together, so take my word for it when I say Hersh is an artist whose performances will resonate with you. If you’ve never heard of her, do yourself a huge favour – listen to Throwing Muses’ first record now. If that takes your fancy (or heck, even if it doesn’t) check out her latest solo outing. She’s a spiky sort of introvert but in the oddest way, she has a way of reaching out to you. Given the chance to experience this in the flesh, do – you’ll be touched.