Thursday, November 3, 2011

Photos/Review: Throwing Muses @ Shepherds Bush Empire

Throwing Muses @ Shepherds Bush Empire (London, UK) - November 2, 2011

The dreary rain and snarling traffic along London’s Chelsea embankment did absolutely nothing to dampen the spirits of my wife, Niki, and myself as we head across London from our suburban nest in the South East corner, north of the Thames to the Shepherds Bush Empire.

The venue was built in 1903 and has been a live entertainment venue for over one hundred years. The interior is dramatic, architecturally grand, and the perfect setting. There’s a lovely and tangible sense of anticipation among the two thousand-or-so strong crowd. Tonight’s Throwing Muses show is part of their tour to mark the 25th anniversary of their debut album and to celebrate the release of 4AD’s Anthology.

First to take to the stage is Special Benny, a London-based outfit who hail from various parts of the UK and one from Hong Kong. The band has three releases: Air Filter, their 2009 debut; Toys, their September 2010 release; and Other People’s Toys, a collection of remixes of tracks from the Toys album. According to their website Special Benny all studied music apart from one member; Mat Baynton, who went to clown school. The band boasts that “although five members can distinguish between a Neapolitan sixth and a French sixth, no one can fall over quite as hilariously as Mr Baynton.” The aforementioned traffic meant that we unfortunately missed a substantial portion of their set. However, what we did catch was some very enjoyable and cheerfully spirited tracks largely instrumental and reminiscent of Tortoise, with hints of Animal Collective and Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti.

The second support act was The Spectrals, brainchild of Louis Jones, and described by him as Italian pop, despite hailing from the North of England. Under the moniker of Spectrals Jones has released several 7” singles in 2009/10, followed by an album, Bad Penny, in 2011. He describes his sounds as “combining [his] love of doo wop, girl groups, adding a bit of rat pack flair with a punk rock vibe.” His description was fairly represented by his performance. The whole set felt like a nostalgic homage to the 60s era with more than a hint of Phil Spector, who was, perhaps, also the inspiration behind Jones’ current epithet.

The support acts now finished we waited with anticipation for Throwing Muses to take to the stage. Kristin, David and Bernard arrive to riotous applause and whooping. It appears everyone is just as excited as we are, including the band.

The set opens with "Soul Soldier," inspiring that sense of nervy energy building in my stomach that I associate so strongly with Throwing Muses. They continue to dip into their self-titled debut with strong and brooding performances of "Hate My Way" and "Vicky’s Box," and I am once again reminded of that awesome, unsettling power of Kristin Hersh’s voice live, like a jet of high-pressured water to the chest.

Kristin addresses the audience to enquire who made her the fresh sushi that had been sent backstage. She expresses her gratitude adding that she couldn’t have made it herself, “I can make toast, or a sandwich if pressed.”

The University album provides performances of "Shimmer," "Bright Yellow Gun," "Start," and "Hazing" despite repeated loud requests for "Fish" from one audience member. A moment of quiet is filled by another shout from the audience – “how’s the tour going?” Bernard Georges responds, “Great!”, accompanied by a large smile and a thumbs up. The mood is infectious and the crowd laps up masterful renditions of Garoux Des Larmes, Shark, Tar Kisses, Limbo, and Furious.

Kristin remarks from the stage, “it’s Wednesday, right? Wednesday’s a pretty dumb day to go out. We appreciate it.” The set ends with "Bea," the only track from Hunkpapa to make it onto the setlist. With that, the Muses leave the stage, but Kristin is back in no time to grace us with an encore. She declares, “This is for the fish guy and the sushi lady” and launches solo into "Fish." The rest of the band returns for "Pearl," "Mania," "Devil’s Roof," and "White Bikini Sand."

All in all the show, as I had anticipated, was superlative in every way. As I have come to expect from Throwing Muses, the gig was cathartic and we left feeling both exhausted and elated.


Check out photos of Throwing Muses below, including one of the setlist...

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