Kristin Hersh, Cabaret Voltaire, Edinburgh Festival

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The Independent Culture

Paradoxical undressing, apparently, is the tendency hypothermia victims have to want to undress, threatening their lives while the balance of their mind is impaired, while they're "cold stupid". Paradoxical Undressing is also the title of this solo spoken word and music show by sometime Throwing Muses member Kristin Hersh, from Atlanta, in which she shares some of her most personal thoughts about her youth, including a time when the balance of her own mind was impaired. Part of the Edge Festival, it's a whole lot more fun than its namesake.

"Every generation thinks its music is low and dirty," says Hersh, "but you can always get lower and dirtier." These are her own low, dirty years right here, her teenage experiences of being an emerging indie icon and a growing human being. It's often hard to associate the girl she describes in her read-out-loud teenage diary entries with the evidently confident, poised adult standing before us. Hersh tells tales of hospitalisation for depression, of a car crash and of an attempted suicide, but also of the sheer joy felt making music with her band, and of the wary early stages of pregnancy.

Her words are powerful, yet gently mesmerising. It's odd to consider where they come from; that they're the awkward, anxious words of a typical teenager – albeit one who was and is a talented lyricist – read through the filter of a 42-year-old woman's voice.

Hersh, by the way, does not look her age. This is probably the perfect time in her life to undertake a project such as this, when the tone of her voice can authentically mirror the confusion of her younger self and her own adult befuddlement at this person's sensitive inexperience.

Behind it all, there is the music. Hersh clutches a guitar and idly strums while speaking, like this is Paris, Texas, against the vivid backdrop of paintings by her friend Molly Cliff Hilts. These are indistinct hints at evocative images, as the video-recorded pictures of the artworks pan and tilt through what look like hazy blue suburban skies and dusty, dusky back roads. They suggest great and beautiful memories, just like the show itself – even though the memories might not always be pleasant, Hersh has chosen to celebrate them as one mass of experience.

Then, every so often, she takes out her plectrum, the lights go down, and a short version of her own "Your Dirty Answer", or "Pearl", or "37 Hours" rings out. Hersh's voice is rich in her own personal history, and in that of anyone who has ever enjoyed her music. This singular autobiographical show tells us how that history came to be, in poignant detail.

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