Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Kristin Hersh at the Scala, 21 Nov 05
Way back in October, I had a choice of two gigs this week. One was Kristin Hersh at the Scala and the other was Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at ULU. What to do? Wallow in nostalgia for a music that (for me) represents another age, or go with the hipsters to check out the latest word-of-mouth sensation straight outta Brooklyn. While I dithered, the choice was made for me. Due to the bloghype (and the bandwagon-jumping hype from the UK music press) CYHSY sold out quite quickly, so Kristin it was. She was playing two shows at the Scala – one on Monday where she was doing the songs of Throwing Muses, and Tuesday where she was performing her own solo stuff.
Throwing Muses were never my favourite band, but they were a pretty important group for me. Way back at the very start of my obsession with music, in early ’91 I got turned onto ‘The Real Ramona’ by a late-night indie programme on BBC Radio Scotland. It was a formative time for me – the Charlatans ‘Over Rising’ EP, Primal Scream’s ‘Higher Than The Sun’, and Teenage Fanclub’s ‘Starsign’ along with ‘Ramona’ were making an impression on me and shaping my musical tastes for the next 14 years or so. I hadn’t heard anything quite like them before – there was something discordant, dirty and exciting about them, compared with the chart fodder and Madchester goonery I had been listening to.
My Throwing Muses obsession pretty much remained there too. I never bought any more of their albums, though I came across various tracks over the years. So it wasn’t so much an exercise of wallowing in nostalgia, as discovering a whole heap of songs I had never known.
But what of the gig? Well, I kinda enjoyed it. My qualification comes because it seemed to me that a combination of her rasping vocals, lots of loud strumming and a lack of tunes in some songs made the transition from rock to acoustic a bit boring in places. Some songs really soared and benefited from an acoustic re-interpretation (like ‘Counting Backwards) but others, like the delicate ‘Two Step’ felt like it had been bludgeoned.
One of the great things about solo shows like this is that there feels like there’s much more of a direct link between the artist and the audience. I really liked the few occasions when she’d tell the story behind the song she was about to play. But given the setting, it would have been better if she could have done it more, since she was so assured and charming as she ‘chatted’ with us.
Overall, there were enough good tunes to keep me into her performance, particularly when she brought on cello and violin backup for her encore, which really enhanced the last four numbers. Her second 'encore' was a quick look out to wave holding her son who looked a bit bemused by it all. Rock 'n' roll eh?
So in the end, I’d probably have preferred to have been with the hipsters at ULU, but to be hip, you’ve got to be quick. Instead, I was left with my slightly over-inflated nostalgia, which on balance was no bad thing.
Picture from OldKing on flickr. It’s from a gig in NC, USA. Couldn’t find any of the Scala show yet (despite the amount of digital cameras in evidence), but this is pretty much what she looked like on Monday. Except with slightly shorter hair.