Live Review: Kristin Hersh @ Triskel Arts Centre, Cork 3 Nov 2016

kristin hersh

New album Wyatt at the Coyote Palace out now.

To witness alternative rock pioneer and Throwing Muses front-woman Kristin Hersh in a live setting is to observe a masterclass in raw performance and unvarnished poetry. The Triskel Arts Centre, with its austere and subtle layout, is the perfect environment for such a unconcealed presentation. Here in Ireland’s second city to promote her mesmerising album/book combination Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, Hersh treats the reverent audience to song selections and readings from her latest intimate and delicate work while also exploring older numbers from her expansive catalog coloured with anecdotes full of humour and melancholia.

Throughout the evening, two dichotomous themes come to the fore: reflection and defiance. She spends a portion exploring her relationship with her good friend and fellow song writer Vic Chesnutt, who is now sadly deceased. She reads two poems that explore his nature and their friendship. Painting Chesnutt as a kind of Icarus character who flew to close to the son in his pursuit of chasing his muse (“He loved that free-fall so much” and “Gravity is cruel, but reliable”) her deep love, respect, and loss is clearly, and touchingly, evident. For him she reads a kind of eulogy called ‘Don’t Suck, Don’t Die’, the title of which is a phrase they used to say to each other, and performs a powerful and stripped down version of an old Throwing Muses number, ‘City of the Dead’ (a b-side from the 1992 single ‘Firepile’), and a loving performance of Chesnutt’s own ‘Bakersfield’ from his 1990 debut album Little.

Elsewhere, her reflections are less melancholic and flecked with humour, such as her account of the inspiration behind the Throwing Muses track ‘Cottonmouth’. While recording the 1991 EP Counting Backwards the group frequented a local bar described by Hersh as “sad”. On one visit, two sisters were there absolutely wasted and talking all kinds of irreverent nonsense which Hersh scribbled down hastily on a cocktail napkin and used to construct the song’s playful lyrics.

Equally amusing is her recollection of recording Throwing Muses’ debut album as teenagers. Apparently, they shared a studio with Apollonia Kotero, a back up singer for Prince, who would leave her lyrics in the studio over night (there’s an entire version of the album which has Apollonia lyrics) and raced the rats which resided in a nearby alleyway (somehow the band never questioned how they could see and race the rats from an eighth floor window).

The defiance arises from Hersh’s disgust at the rise in prevalence of franchises devoid of personality and their obscenity as in her deftly subversive performance of ‘Krait’ (In a suburban desert / A fast food high / We swipe at peeling paint / Swat away flies) from her 2010 album Crooked, and the less specific resistance of the volatile ‘Your Dirty Answer’ (I’ll be god damned / This is beautiful / hold my hand) from 2001’s Sunny Border Blue.

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A sense of vulnerability and a wry self deprecating humour surfaces during Hersh’s performance of new tracks from Wyatt at the Coyote Palace. Of recent single ‘Soma Gone Slapstick’ she tells the audience to feel free to hate it. The ripple of chuckles that results suggests that there’s not many attending who do actually dislike the upbeat and melodic offering. After another new song she states, “That’s new, are you mad?” and offers a story as as way of apology. In reality, there is no need for Hersh to be at all concerned about her new songs being less than well received.

Tonight is a demonstration of the rare place that the majority of artists aspire to, but few actually manage to reach. With over 30 years of material at her fingertips, Hersh has a song for all occasions and emotions. Most remarkable, is the strength of her words, which are filled with humour, sadness, and life experience. Surely, there are not many better ways to spend an evening than with Kristin Hersh.

If you like this Kristin Hersh live review, you might enjoy our interview with the Throwing Muses front-woman

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