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Throwing Muses – Oran Mor, Glasgow

Vespertine joins an unassuming alt.legend on a tour of her back pages.

Kristin Hersh revisits Glasgow in her third incarnation in as many visits: acoustic performer, solo performer with small band, and now as frontwoman of Throwing Muses. On her website Kristin is open as to how hard it is to make a living as an alternative performer outside the mainstream. Sometimes finances dictate solo shows and she said of this tour: “If people come out to see us we can come back, otherwise…..”

Well Glasgow has turned out – the venue is surprisingly busy for a Monday night, and for a band with no current product and who often defy easy categorisation. That’s reassuring. There might be no new album but there is a fairly comprehensive new retrospective out and the set mirrors the scope of that album. We are taken from the band’s earliest recordings as teenagers through to their final album Limbo.

2003’s self titled album is ignored – this strange beast was perhaps more properly a 50ft Wave album to all intensts and purposes and sits strangely in their back catalogue. Strangely the classic House Tornado album is also ignored completely which surprises me.

So from the stuttering, juddering, raw and visceral first album we get opener ‘Soul Soldier’ and a hugely emotional ‘Vicky’s Box’. Your writer is almost on the verge of naming every song and taking you on a personal tour of my thoughts, emotions and feelings about them. But that’s not a review…

If the band had a breakthrough it was Hunkpapa although Hersh dislikes the best known song from that album ‘Dizzy’. This work is revisited for several cuts including a rare outing for ‘Devil’s Roof’ and a stunning ‘Bea’ which has unsettling imagery about ‘making babies in a field’.

Later albums saw a switch in Kristin Hersh’s songwriting as she began to deal with being diagnosed as bipolar. The songs were less fragmented and perhaps closer to college rock, although still its twisted step-sister. But the songs from these albums sound wonderful tonight, particularly a great dash through ‘Shark’ and a superb rendition of ‘Pearl’ from the dense and claustrophobic Red Heaven album.

Kristin is very quiet, focused and seems taken aback that so many people are so passionate about the band. An unexpected highlight comes when Kristin plays an acoustic version of ‘Fish’ from the 4AD sampler album Lonely Is An Eyesore.

After almost 25 years of Throwing Muses Kristin has moved from fragile teenager who ‘grabbed songs’ as they assaulted her via hallucinations to an author, acoustic performer, mother and label owner. But the songs still remain shot through with fire, passion and darkness: people love too much, it ends badly, they fight their nature, they self-harm….and yet the effect is not a staged and doom laden take on Goth but a catharctic experience; the songs and the band make the room happy and uplift them. That’s the power of music.

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