Kristin Hersh is an artist who inspires religious devotion on behalf of her fans, so what more appropriate venue for her than a church.
We gathered like pilgrims in the pews of St John on Bethnal Green, as the Throwing Muses frontwoman delivered a solo sermon, replete with tales of spectres, prostitutes, drunks and sultry New Orleans nights.
Entitled ‘An Evening With….’ this was a performance in the raw, Hersh alone on stage with just a guitar for company.
Seated throughout, Hersh opted to punctuate her songs with prose readings from the books that have accompanied her recent solo releases.
A risky tactic, but – while there was some restlessness among the congregation during the longer recitals – most were greeted with engrossed silence, broken only by the occasional cheer.
“It’s so silent in here – it’s like a church,” Hersh added drolly at one point.
Opening with what became a running gag about being told we’d hate her for playing new songs, Hersh went on to perform several cuts from her latest double album Wyatt At The Coyote Palace (reviewed by EP here).
Detox was delivered with a prose prologue about making gallons of gazpacho soup for the local working girls, complete with a hint on where to find the recipe!
While the brilliant Tennessee Williams-style imagery of Between Piety and Desire came with a confession that it was inspired by streets with the same names where she lived in New Orleans.
“I didn’t have to stretch too far for that metaphor,” she admitted, with a laugh.
There was room for old favourites too, notably Your Ghost from 1994’s Hips and Makers LP, originally released as a duet with REM’s Michael Stipe.
Apart from the odd self-deprecating aside, ad-libbing was kept to a minimum, with Hersh letting her rich, warm, husky vocals and fluid, sinuous guitar-playing fill the hall.
She looked small on stage, dwarfed by high ceilings with a statue looming behind her, but her voice was big, confident and clear.
It was strangely hypnotic to watch the fingers of her left-hand dance across the fretboard, while her right belted out a steady rhythm.
After a single encore she was gone, leaving as she had arrived with little fanfare, just a short half turn and wave goodbye to the faithful.
A delightful and assured performance from one of alternative rock’s true originals.
- Kristin Hersh’s US tour starts in Seattle on November 29, finishing in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on December 16. Full details from her website.