Saturday, March 03, 2007

Singing like a star

Kristin Hersh/The McCarricks, 2nd March 2007, Leicester Y Theatre

Many a band has been described as providing soundtracks to imaginary films; the McCarricks go one better by making, or at least commissioning, the films to fit their soundtracks. The woozy, mildly disturbing nature of the footage of cityscapes, contortionists, early cartoons and surrealist imagery used in the back projections match the furious, dramatic sawing, plucking and weaving melodies of the duo, violinist Kimberlee and cellist Martin (formerly of Therapy? and arranger for This Mortal Coil, Siouxsie & The Banshees and Marc Almond), over the accompanying beats and disembodied instrument drop-ins. Dark, compelling stuff.

The McCarricks are in fact doing a double shift as they're also in Kristin Hersh's band, and even though this is billed as her solo tour her 50 Foot Wave bandmates Bernard Georges (also Muses alumni) and Rob Ahlers are coming along too. David Narcizo actually plays drums on her latest album, but presumably billing a solo tour as cover for a Throwing Muses reunion would have been a step too far. Personally, much of Hersh's back catalogue is a black hole to me - I know a bit of the Throwing Muses' oeuvre but haven't really kept track of most of the solo or 50 Foot Wave material before this year's Learn To Sing Like A Star. It's understandably that album that provides the bulk of the night's setlist, and where the album suffers somewhat from glossed up production and mixing, in its raw state the arrangements of the new songs crystallise as a set of delicately powerful songs, its huge sound retained without compromising on the semi-cryptically personal nature of the lyrics, and in this intimate atmosphere, Hersh remarking on how quiet it is immediately before kicking into the set, her voice really stands out, rough-hewn, fragile but gaining through inner strength.

Even so, after the strong opening of Wild Vanilla it takes nearly half the set for things to take off - no real fault of Hersh's or her flexible, tight band, more that the inherent spark and crackle feels somewhat like the lid hasn't been taken off it. It only really gets going when Hersh swaps electric guitar for acoustic and proceeds to play even louder and fiercer with a forceful run through Your Dirty Answer, wherein her earthy tones develop a Wicked Witch Of The West evil cackle, and from there on in everything surges and sparkles, especially on album standouts In Shock and Winter. Hersh has seemingly accepted her role as one of America's most intriguing indie cult concerns, mostly by the look of the audience for those whose later stages of education were soundtracked by discovering The Real Ramona or University, and her banter remains relaxed, appealing and self-deprecating. After an hour that has thoroughly eviscerated the emotions ranging from delicate self-prognosis to full on rockouts she returns for an encore of Gazebo Tree, which she precedes by explaining that it was inspired by her regular discussions with old ladies on buses, accompanied by just the strings before the full band pull out a charged but controlled version of the Muses' White Bikini Sand. Hersh remains an electrifying performer at her best, and while the college rock circuit fame promised in the Muses' breakthrough days never really came to pass it's not such a bad thing if we still get to experience her playing to her own rules of musical engagement in these sort of surroundings.


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