Throwing Muses/Tanya Donelly review – intense and fascinating

Islington Assembly Hall, London
Donelly was in strident, declamatory form alongside stepsister Kristin Hersh and the rest of her former alt-rock cohorts

Kristin Hersh interviewed about her memoirs: ‘I hate music’

Back in the pre-grunge late 80s, Boston was the epicentre of the US alt-rock scene, largely due to Throwing Muses. Pixies became the city’s musical talisman only after supporting the Muses, who were the first to cross over from Boston’s insular college-rock circles to the wider world.

Tanya Donelly was an original Muses singer and guitarist alongside her stepsister, Kristin Hersh, but left to found Belly before pursuing a solo career. Nearly 30 years on, her voice is more strident and declamatory, with songs such as Swoon and Snow Goose and Me morphing into beautifully haunted country noir.

Donelly’s alma mater band is now a power trio but, as ever, Throwing Muses’ intensity is invested in the fascinatingly contradictory Hersh. Hersh has often spoken of her songs as unwanted demons foisted upon her by her bipolar disorder, yet it’s hard to equate such psychological torment with the witty, charming figure bantering on stage.

Nevertheless, music has always poured out of her, not least on last year’s 32-track Purgatory/Paradise album. Hersh scrabbles at her guitar like a woman clutching a cliff-edge on the paranoid, itchy Static, while the stop-start eruptions of Dripping Trees confirm that Pixies owed the Muses far more than a few early support slots.

Donelly rejoins the group for the second half of the set, and the gnarled existential tangles of early Muses songs such as You Cage and Red Shoes call to mind some kind of brittle shotgun marriage of Sylvia Plath and Patti Smith. Hersh beams on as she delivers these nagging missives from the far side of a nervous breakdown. “I have no secrets,” she breathes on the encore Bright Yellow Gun. It’s doubtful that she even believes herself.

• Friday 26 September. Box office: 020-7527 8900. Venue: Islington Assembly Hall.


Ian Gittins

The GuardianTramp

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