Throwing Muses – Shepherd’s Bush Empire 2/11/2011

Music venues are supposed to define the kind of act you’re going to see in terms of size and reputation. Unfortunately, gig-going in the 21st century means that, because of a mixture of legislation, health and safety and anti-terrorism measures that rock and roll is a pretty sanitised and clinical affair nowadays.

Having had my bag searched and asked to leave my camera at the box office, then having my bag looked into again I managed to reach the stage and the crap over-priced beer. The music certain to be good but at this point, the whole enjoying-yourself-malarky was beginning to feel like work. While it’s beneficial for everyone that we longer have smoking at indoor events but As an O2 venue, just like the re-christened Millenium Dome, the Empire also has a no re-admittance policy which is tad drastic for those who might still smoke and want to go out for, erm, y’know, a good time.

So being at a gig where you’ve essential been kettled and taken your entrance fee as hostage might not really get you in the mood to either have a good time or have any social display of  joie de vivre. While gigs are no longer the domain of scruffy pissed-up students, vinyl obssessives and would-be musos, does your common or garden gig have to become a more like a trip to a theme-park?

Fortunately, Throwing Muses put on a good show. Kristin Hersh and co have nearly 25 years of tunes to mine from. This tour was to push their recent Anthology an attempt encapsulate the best elements of their back catalogue. The cynic and the realist might say that for a band that have been officially split for over seven years this might be a way of cashing in on the back of early-90’s comeback after the successes of 4AD label-mates Pixies, and acts like Blur, Dinosaur Jr, and most recently, The Stone Roses.

And why not? Throwing Muses might not have the fanbase that the aforementioned artists but they can pull in a decent crowd of followers, albeit some slightly podgier and over-the-hill than when the Muses were still in their pomp.

Much of the set was culled from their earlier material – songs such as ‘Soul Soldier’, ‘Garoux des Larmes’, ‘Vicky’s Box’ and ‘Bea’ all feature from the first 2 albums while the rest of the set was made up of the stand-out songs from University and Limbo, two albums that demonstrate Throwing Muses credentials as a fine pop band. ‘Limbo’, ‘Tar Kissers’, ‘Hazing’ and ‘Bright Yellow Gun’ were probably what most fans wanted to hear. Strange then that these were played early in the set and the encore was given over to their earlier, folky roots. ‘Dirty Water’ and ‘Notorious’ were played from 1991’s critically-acclaimed Red Heaven, although material from The Real Ramona  tunes like ‘Counting Backwards‘ and ‘Him Dancing’ were omitted from both the gig and the Anthology which was a shame.

Perhaps this might have saomething to do with former co-songwriter Tanya Donelly‘s absence who left the band in 1992 after to form Belly. Although Donelly has worked with the band since, both making appearances at live gigs and adding backing vocals to tunes here and there, it would have been great to have had them as a four-piece as a truer picture of the Throwing Muses in their (more or less) original line-up.

Nevertheless, Kristin Hersh is a wonderful singer and songwriter who has, it could be argued, not been given her fair dues, perhaps because of the presence of more famous female rock idols – like Kim Deal and Kim Gordon – and because Grunge cast such a long shadow over early 90’s American indie rock.

Both the gig and the album it is promoting is overall a fair summary of a band that played no small part in the last stand of independent music.

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