Gig Review: Kristin Hersh at Metronome

Words: Michael Prince
Photos: Michael Prince
Tuesday 17 October 2023
reading time: min, words

With her introspective and enigmatic writing style, it really is no wonder that singing-songwriting powerhouse Kristin Hersh has a three-decade-long career under her belt. Her prolific solo venture has seen the release of twentyrecords, not to mention her time in nineties alt-rock group Throwing Muses, and the more-recent 50 Foot Wave. Armed with her trusty guitar, she takes the stage at Nottingham's Metronome...

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Coming on stage Kristin revealed she had just been sent a text with an accompanying video about a dead lizard with worms coming out of it. She promised to report back on the video in the second set of the night. “I have such great friends…”

So tonight was a night of sad songs sung beautifully. Two sets from Kristin with a break where “you are supposed to get more drunk and buy some merch." On the contrary, it was all very civilized and restrained.

“We’re taking requests tonight but only from each other," Kristin announced, "but I have veto." The stage was just her on guitar and Pete Harvey on cello, who she decided had the superhero name of “Cello Pete." Kristin’s husky voice soaring above, and then hiding beneath the complimenting instruments. An intense, yet intimate night. “That was a sunshine melody: A really depressing sunshine melody,” she drawled, cheerily. “Can you feel the love?”

The forceful Mississippi Kite came next, followed by the delicate Dandelion. You can drift away to another place with these songs. Hersh is not afraid to explore different musical avenues searching her life in minute detail such as Bywater, a song about a goldfish called Freddie Mercury, who went on tour with her in a pickle jar. He had a handlebar moustache and one fin, and he died at a party in New Orleans, “like a lot of people, but no one could flush him because he was so cool. I was asked ‘why I had written a song visualising Freddie Mercury as an amputee goldfish?’, I said ‘because he was. Doh.’” 

“My drummer said when people find out most of your songs are so darn true, you are gonna be in such big trouble." She really isn’t.

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These songs are not ones to just cry to, they are ones to quietly sob yourself to sleep to; Hersh has given you the means to empathise with her and experience glimpses of her life. This is a privilege we should be grateful of.

And then with Part Two, we had an update on the lizard: “I saw the lizard video and I thought they’d be small worms, smaller than the lizard, but they were big worms. Big worms! I’ll be back out there watching it over and over again later. Truly horrifying.” I wonder if there will be a song about this in the future?

Slippershell was a punchier, angrier song, becoming more intense, the desperation of the situation and resignation in her voice finally fading the song out. Teeth was particularly beautiful, with Hersh singing “all girls cry, like I don’t know why," evoking a feeling which was both depressing and powerful. She defies what is wrong and turns it into something delicately poignant; the tension in Kristin’s songs is never far away, scratch the surface.

Tonight was not only about music, but about her books too. The Future of Songwriting, Seeing Sideways and Nerve Endings are a collection of lyrics selected alongside her new album Clear Pond Road. The accompanying book shows her talent as a photographer as well.  

She read a horror story about a woman setting herself on fire who then returns to haunt and suffocate you in her old bed. Her love of science creeping in, molecules, sound and words. As she reached the climax, someone knocked a glass over as they sat back down. “I did love that clatter so much. Thank you, goodnight."

And that was it. She was gone.

Kristin Hersh performed at Metronome on 9 October 2023.

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