Kristin Hersh, Arts Theatre, London <!-- none onestar twostar fourstar fivestar -->

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

"Thank you all so much for being here," said Kristin Hersh, in her soft, Rhode Island voice. "No, thank you," cried out a reverential fan. It was one of those gigs where you feel like you've intruded on something, a bit of a smug-in.

This one-off performance in a poky theatre was almost exclusively about the 40-year-old's new solo material, Learn to Sing Like a Star (out on 29 January) and, as is so often the case with these affairs, it was, in parts, frustrating and self-indulgent. For those who admired, or even just dipped into, Throwing Muses and Hersh's solo career, it was bound to disappoint.

However, the fans all seemed appreciative. They didn't appear to mind that there would be no "Delicate Cutters", "Soul Soldiers", or the hit "Dizzy" from Throwing Muses, the ultimate American college band that Hersh founded in her teens with her half-sister Tanya Donelly. And they accepted that there would be precious little solo material from the last 13 years, although we were treated to "Ghosts", the sublimely creepy, cello-laden hit from Hersh's most successful album, Hips and Makers.

Also, thankfully, there's no blisteringly loud punk (and yells of "Shut the fuck up!") from her latest project, 50 Foot Wave. However, the drummer and bassist from 50 Foot Wave (who mysteriously vanished for two songs) did accompany her for what she called her "sensitive songs".

Generally, Learn to Sing Like a Star is a welcome return to what Hersh excels at - impressionistic, hallucinatory lyrics and surreal vignettes. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Hersh has always fed, creatively, off her personal demons, and her new material is sprinkled with fury and unsettling images,.

"You might know the meaning of my lyrics better than I do," Hersh said when I interviewed her back in 1996. I didn't then and don't (much) 11 years on. For instance, "Under the Gun" makes little sense at all: "My heart goes out/ a lover on a night with no moon/ I learnt to fill out gaunt limbs like a parrot lady." Hersh explained that it's about a "Scary, scary lady, like all the other songs". OK.

However, the oblique lyrics and general psychic chaos in her material doesn't detract from the power of her performance. Her new album's standout track, "In Shock", worked well, and was accompanied by sumptuous, swirling strings from Martin and Kim McCarrick. In fact, these two were a highlight, lending atmosphere to a dreary venue, and making some of us feel less alienated by the whole experience.