Sunday, May 24, 2009


Clearly the best-gig-in-a-library this year. But this could also be best-gig-of-the-year for me. It's fifteen years by my reckoning since I last saw Kristin Hersh live. How have I allowed this to happen?? After tonight's performance fifteen months to the next time will be too long.

Initial excitement about KH touring after ATP paled into horror when I realised most dates were already sold out. Relief that the nearest gig to Manchester was the only one with tickets still available then turned to intrigue when I found out the venue was Burnley Library. A library? In Burnley? All is (nearly) explained by this being part of Get It Loud In Libraries - a programme promoting music in libraries in Lancashire. Not sure why but more strength to their arm. And I certainly benefitted tonight by the intimacy of the space and the amazing sound quality.

And this literally was a gig in a library. The audience congregated in front of a small riser set up in between the Issue Desk and a bank of microfilm readers. This is not as prosaic as it sounds - above us was a magnificent stained glass dome. About 8.45pm, Kristin stepped on to the stage with guitar - the only one she played all evening with only minimal use - it appeared - of effects pedals either. However the extremes she wrought out of the instrument were astonishing. She started the set with two Appalachian murder ballads which sounds unsettling enough when delivered by this petite, polite, almost hesitantly-shy singer in a pink wool cardigan. But it was the first of her own songs 'Mississippi Kite' which really unsettled: from simple almost emotionless delivery she literally SHRIEKED the chorus and the veins on her neck leapt out. It was chilling. When she finished she smiled sweetly and thanked us all. The shell-shocked audience applauded politely.

And this was the formula for the evening: a mixture of her solo and Throwing Muses songs were interspersed with murder ballads, the raw emotion of the songs matched by the intensity of her delivery. Through out she stood stock-still with a fixed stare, only occasionally swaying trance-like. It was mesmerising. And the occasional humourous story or comment - how she had sliced her thumb when cutting bread, is she allowed to say 'dipshit' in a library? - only heightened the intensity of those songs. One theme to her between-song chat was how much she preferred England to the States: the previous night she had stayed in an idyllic bed-and-breakfast in the shadow of a nuclear power station "it was post-apocalyptic but still nicer than the States". Let's all hope she'll come back and visit again soon.

I got the set-list above at the end BUT it bears very little relation to the order in which songs played or indeed which songs were played. My best-guess is below with "AMB" standing for Appalachian Murder Ballad (the part of her repertoire I need to listen to more)

AMB x 2
Mississippi Kite
Sno Cat
AMB (in which the female protagonist is killed three times over)
Dusty Road
City of the Dead
Me and My Charms
Your Ghost
Deep Wilson
Your Dirty Answer
Tuesday Night
Hook in Her Head

At the end a small group gathered to meet Kristin and someone presented her with home-made cakes. Damn. I've done that before - why didn't I think of that this time? But without presents she was still happy to sign stuff.

Support tonight was Christopher Rees who deserves mention. He plays folk-blues using electric and acoustic guitars and banjo, often stomping out rhythms with his left foot. So more murder ballads but an impressive range of styles too. He has three CDs for sale here.

Kristin Hersh
Speedbath [BUY]

Kristin Hersh
Hips and Makers [BUY or BUY]

Throwing Muses
The Real Ramona [BUY or BUY]


The Archivist said...

OK so it isn't a dome but see a great pic of the room and glass ceiling at Wild Vanilla

The Archivist said...

And now video of 'Slippershell' from Get It Loud In Libraries is on You Tube: