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- Arts Theatre, London »
- Kristin Hersh »
Kristin Hersh looks out intently into the middle distance, her attention seemingly somewhere far outside of the venue. Her head bobs and weaves like a cobra curiously eying potential prey as she sings softly in that unique husky drawl.
Her lyrical style is distinctive, poetic but matter of fact, tightly scripted one-liners stitched together into convoluted structures of imagery or experience ("You're inscrutable / you're all mine... your guitar's a race car / sex is your best friend.... this is beautiful / hold my hand."). There's a sing-song, almost, nursery rhyme-ish quality about the rhythmic, syncopated approach to syllables.
The first set is a performance made up entirely of songs from the forthcoming album, How To Sing Like A Star, performed with an excellent band composed of the bassist and drummer from 50 Foot Wave, and male/female violinist/cello duo The McCarricks. The songs are robust and understated, stylistically cherry picking from Hersh's back catalogue - ‘Nerve Endings’ is reminiscent of the quieter songs, like ‘Crabtown’, from Throwing Muses’ masterpiece University. Opener ‘In Shock’ is closer to the up-tempo ‘90s US indie sound of The Real Ramona. These songs don't go for big impressive tricks, but they are well made and full of subtle hooks.
For the 'encore', Hersh plays five older songs: ‘Your Dirty Answer’ and ‘Summer Salt’, album highlights from Sunny Border Blue, followed by what amounts to a dream trilogy of ‘Your Ghost’, ‘Gazebo Tree’ and a wonderful version of ‘Me And My Charms’. These songs are of the old Hersh: hurt and haunted, resonant, cathartic and spooky.
On ‘Your Dirty Answer’, when Hersh's voice breaks from a whisper into its full-on roar, it's completely exhilarating and enough to make me break into an involuntary grin. It's rasping, rough, cracked - reminiscent of Kurt Cobain's voice in its ability to lift a song, and maybe to express something more primal and affecting than the words themselves can carry. With that voice and such powerful and perfect songs in her repertoire, Hersh's lasting cult status is easily explicable.