San Francisco Bathhouse
October 15 | Reviewed by Brannavan Gnanalingam

APPARENTLY Kristin Hersh is trying to become a New Zealand resident. Someone should fast-track her application so we can see more of her here. On Monday night indie legend Hersh played to a packed and frozen Wellington crowd, showcasing music from her prolific solo and Throwing Muses’ work. It was just her and her guitar, a little frame belying a voice that seems to sift through charcoal. It was a voice and performance that had the audience rapt.

Hersh has so many songs that her set-lists could pretty much go anywhere, and she could probably improvise her set lists. It was surprising not to hear more from her excellent album Learn to Sing Like a Star, which came out at the start of the year, but for the old-time fans there was plenty from her most well-known and highest selling album Hips and Makers and from Throwing Muses’ back catalogue. At times the set tended to veer a bit towards the same-y (it is hard when there is just one person up on stage), but overall she managed to vary her sound enough to keep it interesting. She built up excellent crescendos for example, on a couple of back-to-back Throwing Muses tracks – ‘Speed and Sleep’ from the Muses’ 2003 self-titled album and ‘Hook in Her Head’ from the fantastic 1991 album The Real Ramona.

The set highlight was early on with Strange Angels’ ‘Gazebo Tree’, a song which she book-ended with discussions about old ladies who sit next to her on buses and talk to her, and blueberry bagels that look like “necrotic tissue”. Her audience interaction was very winning; she was an engaging conversationalist with rather surreal anecdotes. Another wonderful piece was the bleak ‘Teeth’ from Hips and Makers, a song which she introduced as being about white-trash neighbours. The immediately recognisable ‘Your Ghost’ was another audience favourite, the song sounding even more haunting sans Michael Stipe (who sung with Hersh on the Hips and Makers version). Her encore went back to Hips and Makers (‘Sundrops’ and ‘Me and My Charms’), and when she ended, it seemed that a bountiful set-list had gone by in a flash.