Review | Kristin Hersh Electric Trio at the Wedgewood Rooms, Southsea: 'A delicious exercise in controlled extremes'

For nearly four decades Kristin Hersh and her idiosyncratic stylings have been at the centre of American indie rock.

Thursday, 21st April 2022, 9:32 am

From the '80s birth of Throwing Muses who helped define the period’s American indie scene, to her folk-tinged solo career which took off in the ’90s, to her noisier outlet 50ft Wave which began in the mid-noughties, Hersh has always ploughed her own furrow.

The line-up for this band, though, sits between those various stools. Rob Ahler is 50ft Wave's drummer, while bassist (and opening act as a solo performer) Fred Abong, who was in the Muses back in the '90s, is now also Hersh's partner.

As such it allows the setlist to roam all over Hersh's extensive musical map.

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Kristin Hersh Electric Trio at The Wedgewood Rooms on April 20, 2022. Picture by Chris Broom

And if we're going to be honest, the lines between the three strands of her output, aurally, have somewhat blurred in the past decade or so.

It leans heavily on the Muses’ relatively recent output – opening with Sunray Venus from 2013's Purgatory/Paradise, before a run of tracks from their most recent album, 2020's Sun Racket – Bywater hits an early peak and Dark Blue is particularly effective.

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There's a brace of 50ft Wave tracks mid-set – the incendiary Staring Into The Sun from new album Black Pearl which was only released this week, before one of the band's early tracks, the feedback riot of Bug.

Kristin Hersh Electric Trio at The Wedgewood Rooms on April 20, 2022. Picture by Chris Broom

The Muses 1994 nearly-hit Bright Yellow Gun makes a welcome appearance in the set. Appearing in the post-grunge, alternative-rock gold-rush, it should have been the Muses' title shot, but sadly the rock community never took this somewhat off-kilter band to its hearts the way they did, say, contemporaries Belly, founded by Hersh's step-sister and original Muses member Tanya Donnelly. Their loss.

The opening track of Hersh's latest solo album Possible Dust Clouds is dedicated to the 'world's worst airport', LAX, and is one of the catchiest songs she's put her name to in any format in some time.

First up in the encores is the title track of her solo album, Crooked, a delicious exercise in controlled extremes, which sums up most of the set. Hersh often manages to look totally calm before unleashing an unearthly scream – the vein throbbing at her temple as she does so – and back again.

They finish with Abong and Ahler swapping bass and drums for Shark, again by the Muses, this time from their '96 album Limbo. It's a suitably frenzied finale, but at just over an hour, the devoted crowd would happily have had more.

Kristin Hersh Electric Trio at The Wedgewood Rooms on April 20, 2022. Picture by Chris Broom

With this billed as an ‘electric’ gig, it was never likely to touch on the more acoustic/folky side of her output, but it is always a thrill to see Hersh let rip.

An under-rated guitarist, Hersh can coax gentle passages, hard-rocking riffs and squalling feedback as the songs demand, while the rhythm section lock into the groove behind her.

The Wedge is playing host to the opening night of an extensive, 24-date UK tour, and they had apprently only flown in the day before. If there’s any jetlag, it doesn’t show in their performance.

It's a shame not to hear again her take on the folk staple The Cuckoo, which is on the setlist but not played, and there are huge swathes of her back catalogue which get ignored, but it's hard to complain when what we have had has been of such a high calibre.