Throwing Muses, live at the Middle East Downstairs, March 14, 2009
Lead Throwing Muse Kristin Hersh has often said that she doesn't write her songs so much as channel them, so it wasn't surprising that at times it felt like tonight's sold-out crowd was witnessing an onstage exorcism. Those who came to this gig expecting shimmering waves of gossamer 4AD nostalgia were likely to be surprised by the musical behemoth onstage. Hersh, drummer David Narcizo, and bassist Bernard Georges took all the echo-y vocals and wistfully ethereal guitar passages of their past discography and roughly pummeled them as if the venerable British label's willowy aesthetic were being attacked by an Amphetamine Reptile warship.
During a lengthy set that leaned heavily on the band's 1995 major label swan song University (especially during an early three-for of "Start," "Shimmer," and "Hazing"), Hersh and Co. were short on words and long on delivering the goods. If you came expecting the chatty joviality of a local-band-made-good-reunites-in-front-of-a-hometown-crowd sort of thing, you'd have been let down. Instead, it was all about the riffage and choreography of the guitar, bass, and drums, as Georges's vaguely funky propulsion and the jazz-hand precision of Narcizo's attack met full bore with Hersh's screaming guitar chunk and swampy devil-child vocal expulsion.
Taken as a whole, the set was dense and, at times, impenetrable; some of the band's trickier numbers (like a late-set double dip into 1988 House Tornado cuts "Mexican Woman" and "Colder") squiggled and shook at odds with the proto-Pixies loud-quiet-loud carnage of later tunes like University hit "Bright Yellow Gun." Still, if the set at times was more impressive than enjoyable, the sheer brute physicality was worth it — as was Hersh's continued ability, two decades on, to raise the hair on the back of your neck with an inhuman shriek or a guttural moan.
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