Kristin Hersh – Paradoxical Undressing – St Cecilia’s Hall, Edinburgh – Wednesday 20th August
Wednesday night saw a return visit to Kristin Hersh’s ‘Paradoxical Undressing’ after I saw the premiere in Glasgow back in March. For newcomers, the show principally features Kristin reading from her autobiography with songs dotted throughout. The show principally covers the early years of Throwing Muses and deals with not just the band but also Kristin’s relationship with her music.
Everything I said about the première remains true but, since March, the show has been evolving and the most immediate change is that husband Billy gives an introduction to the show to break the ice (as suggested by JC). It’s a big help– at the St Andrews in the Square show it took a long time for the audience to work out how to react. But on Wednesday that happens straight away (although no-one takes up Billy’s offer to be on their worst behaviour!)
The structure of the show has changed too, particularly in the first act. The changes give the whole a more cohesive feel with a greater focus on the early years of the band. The original show was somewhat fractured with the extracts (initially at least) seemingly compiled almost at random and this was perhaps Kristin’s intent as a way of reflecting the fact that she was overwhelmed by the music.
However the changes provide a more direct narrative with fewer mood switches and the changes are more graded. One significant consequence is that the first half is much funnier than previously despite containing the same passages. But it’s worth remembering that this isn’t light entertainment and things take a much darker turn just before the interval.
The second half deals with the demons that Kristin faced and the depths that she reached remain quite shocking. If you require any proof that Kristin is not your run of the mill musician it is surely in the fact that, after a failed suicide bid, it’s her re-engagement with her music which helps her turn the corner. An optimistic conclusion is reached with the band winning a record deal and the birth of her first son. The fact that Kristin sings the final song in the spotlight rather than shrouded in darkness is surely designed to indicate that Kristin is finally in control of her music rather than the other way round.
It’s worth pointing out that the songs are a bit different too – there’s abbreviated versions of ‘Hook In Her Head’ and ‘Mania’, neither aired in Glasgow, and a song I don’t recognise at all. But again ‘Poor Wayfaring Stranger’ is the song that raises the most hairs on the back of the neck (no mean feat) – it’s impossibly poignant after the cutting scene.
The Fringe should really be a natural home for this show but I can’t help but feel that being marketed as part the Edge Music Festival will have limited the audience to a rock audience. This is a show that could reach out to people beyond those boundaries.
I’m not doing this justice. There’s one more chance to catch the show tomorrow at St Cecilia’s (Saturday 23rd). Take it if you can.
Here’s a Throwing Muses version of a song which Kristin played on Wednesday:
Throwing Muses – Mania (from ‘Live in Brussels’) [Get it]
Other Paradoxical stuff
Shaky hand held footage from London.
Get tracks from Kristin’s forthcoming LP here
The venue itself is something else. It may not be as ornate as St Andrews In The Square was but it’s apparently the oldest purpose built concert hall in Scotland. It also houses a remarkable collection of old guitars with an exhibition dating back to the modern guitar’s Restoration era predecessor, the gigue.
Also worthy of a mention is the show I saw before Kristin. Going to see a work colleague perform is always a little fraught but I’m delighted to report that Andrew C Ferguson and Friends was good enough to avoid subsequent any embarrassment at work. A mixture of slightly surreal stories (mainly about Glenrothes, which is surreal enough in itself) and songs it proved to be an entertaining hour.