Singer-Songwriter Kristin Hersh Brings Poetic Sensibility to Music Box Show

As she sat on the Music Box Supper Club's stage last night, singer-songwriter Kristin Hersh, who wore an ankle-length skirt, looked more like a schoolteacher than the leader of the Throwing Muses, the terrific indie/alternative rock band that dates back to the early 1980s,

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Hersh has honed her poetic sensibilities over the years to the point that she now releases her albums in ornate books that include bits of fiction and prose in them.

During last night’s 70-minute performance, she read from those slim books while she sat on a stool and played an acoustic set. Though short and subdued, the set had a real intensity to it, something that Hersh brought to the fore by telling stories and singing songs that alluded to the emotional fallout she continues to feel in the wake of the abrupt dissolution of her marriage (her husband of 25 years simply walked out one day).

Hersh began the set by confiding with the attentive crowd of about 50 or so that friends advised her against playing “the new stuff." “No one wants to hear the new stuff,” she joked before she started the set with “Bright,” a track from her recent album, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace.

While she played a handful of the songs from Wyatt at the Coyote Place, she also dug back into her catalog to play the Throwing Muses' track “City of the Dead,” which she delivered with all its prickliness, capably taking the song from its quieter moments to its bursts of noise.

Hersh introduced “Detox,” another track from Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, by reading from the album’s accompanying book. The song featured some of the most aggressive guitar work of the night. Stuttering vocals distinguished the haunted ballad “Ghost,” which lost a bit in translation since the acoustic version lacked the strings found on the studio version, but that's a minor quibble.

Hersh then introduced “Sno Cat” by explaining how she wrote it one night after she went for a drive to unwind after an argument with her husband only to witness a guy doing doughnuts on a snowmobile in his front yard. Her intro added a personal touch to the tune, and the tender song came off as a brittle lullaby.

Her rendition of the old folk tune “Wayfaring Stranger,” which she used to close the set, had a Johnny Cash-like quality as Hersh spoke more than she sang on the song, suggesting the way in which her solo songs and Throwing Muses numbers, as off kilter as they sometimes seem, ultimately draw from a long songwriting tradition. Seeing Hersh play solo helped connect those dots.

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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