Last night I ticked the “See the Throwing Muses play live” item off my ‘To Do’ list and they were awesome. I can hardly believe I was standing about ten feet away from Kristin Hersh all night, and I’m not sure the band could believe they’d been put in a position quite so up-close-and-personal with the good people of Cardiff. Kristin asked at one point if anyone could “smell Dave” (drummer David Narcizo) because apparently the band members were all a little ripe from travelling. They also seemed a bit overawed by the venue – The Gate in Cardiff, an old church which has been refurbished and turned into a strangely posh community centre. “It’s so beautiful here” said Kristin, “This isn’t going to go well, we’re not beautiful”. But it was great and I think they’re all gorgeous.
After almost thirty years, the Throwing Muses appear as a band completely in control of their material. The live sound is loud and heavy, more in line with Red Heaven and Throwing Muses. Hersh is a mesmerising performer: dressed-down in a simple pink top with her hair pulled back, she makes no effort to impress the audience; she just stands there and plays her music. “Now that”, said my partner, “Is a rock star”. Most of the performance is contained in her intense vocal delivery. David Narcizo is an amazing drummer, never wavering in intensity and, seeing them live, I really noticed just how crucial bassist Bernard Georges is to the sound. They all made playing the complex songs (with their huge riffs, shifting keys and time signatures) look effortless.
It was a timely catharsis for me because I’ve been feeling the need to scream recently and if you can’t scream and jump up and down at a Throwing Muses gig, when can you? So I was especially pleased when Kristin accepted the request to play ‘Hate my Way’ and also when they played ‘Mania’ in the encore. I wasn’t disappointed by the set list as a whole, quite a few of my favourites got an airing, including ‘Shimmer’, ‘Bea’, ‘Pearl’ and ‘Speed and Sleep’. I completely disagree with people who find Hersh’s songs grim or depressing. I usually loathe the word “empowering”, but I can’t think of another one to describe my feelings about the way these songs unapologetically own painful feelings and experiences. They are emotionally honest without being self-indulgent and to have a woman sing that way is very powerful. I wasn’t surprised to see so many lesbians in the audience. I actually ran into the one who introduced me to the Throwing Muses years ago, which she didn’t happen to remember doing, but I’m grateful anyway.
For music see Kristin Hersh.com