The first clue this wasn’t your average show was the Brudenell being entirely seated for the first time I remember, the second was the 8 o’clock start time (admittedly much appreciated if you happen to have a toddler going through a phase of bad sleep at home). Both set the tone for the type of show to expect, part gig, part spoken word closer to a theatre performance in many ways.
I had seen Kristin Hersh before, in both her Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave guises, so I was well aware of the astonishing power of her voice, but I was still unprepared for how ferocious it could be when accompanied by only an acoustic guitar in an otherwise almost entirely silent venue. An entire set like this may have been too intense to bear, but these sections contrasted with the gentle beauty of some of the other songs, and the readings from her books which took place after every couple of songs.
I had known Hersh was a writer, but not having read any of her work, I had no idea she was such a good one. Hearing passages from her books read aloud really bought home what a remarkable way with words she has, both in song and on page. As this show took place just a few days after we lost one of the great poet/lyricists in Leonard Cohen, it was comforting to be reminded that there is at least one other artist out there who can use the language almost as well. Plus, she’s fucking funny, although I think it took a little while for the audience to relax and realise they had permission to laugh.
Musically, anyone who turned up expecting a greatest hits show may have been a little disappointed. There were plenty of selections from her (excellent) current album ‘Wyatt at the Coyote Palace‘ and other recent albums, as well as a cover of the standard ‘Wayfaring Stranger’ and a song by her lost friend Vic Chesnutt. Hersh is such an engaging, charismatic performer though, that she could have performed almost anything from her repertoire, and I would have enjoyed the show just as much. Plus, we did get ‘Your Ghost’, the first song of hers I knew and loved, back in my teenage years, and I had to try hard to not to sing Michael Stipe’s backing parts from the recorded version.
A wonderful evening all in all, and my only minor disappointment was the relatively short set, although nowadays I am just appreciative of the opportunity for an early night.