Kristin Hersh had come to sing, but also to delve into her unlikely second career as memoirist. In the 1990s, the New England native was in the vanguard of American alternative rock, as front woman of Throwing Muses and as a solo artist whose songs offered a striking blend of ethereal and eerie.
Her voice remains an instrument of impressive catharsis, as she demonstrated negotiating both new solo LP, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace, and Throwing Muses’s 2013 album, Purgatory/Paradise. But, in between the barbed indie pop, Hersh (50), had a surprise: spoken-word extracts from her several books, including a wrenching account of her friendship with the late tunesmith, Vic Chesnutt (who took his own life in 2009).
The interludes work best, deepening our understanding of the songs. Occasionally, it is true, the readings outstayed their welcome, not helped by Hersh’s slightly purple style. And yet, any sense of wallowing was offset by the music, driven by her pummelling guitar and richly angst-ridden voice.
Hersh isn’t one to dwell on the past and the set leaned towards recent material. Four years in the making, Coyote Palace explores traumatic moments from the artist’s life, including a knife fight with a drunk, at age 12, and the dissolution, during the recording, of her marriage.
‘Killing Two Birds’ and ‘Detox’ were confessional dirges with acid in their veins; even the catchy ‘Mississippi Kite’ (from 2010’s Crooked) was suffused with darkness. Hersh indulged her audience slightly during the encore, with highlights from Throwing Muses early years and ‘Your Ghost’, her 1994 ‘hit’, which, in recorded form, featured backing from REM’s Michael Stipe. Here, she repurposed the tune as a nightmare-lullaby — a breathtaking conclusion to an evening that offered 50 shades of catharsis and little in the way of happy endings.