The Shady Circle
I recently stumbled across a blog post about Kristin Hersh that referred to her as “not terribly prolific.” I’m not really sure which KH this author of said post was referring to, because the KH I’m familiar with is a constant whirlwind of creative activity. At this very moment, she’s working on a memoir and accompanying multimedia stage presentation called Paradoxical Undressing (recently premiered at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe); her next solo record, Speedbath; new 50 Foot Wave material; and a long-awaited follow-up to her 1998 collection of Appalachian folk songs and murder ballads. Oh, and there’s that unsubstantiated but highly probable rumor of an upcoming Throwing Muses record. Phew. I’m tired just thinking about the multi-tasking required to keep that many creative projects running concurrently.
If that weren’t enough, she recently embarked on a new solo venture called the Shady Circle, eschewing the unappetizing club circuit for the lower-key, far more welcoming world of house concerts. Last Sunday night, about 25 of us had the privilege of hanging out, drinking apple cider and eating cookies with Kristin and her husband Billy O’Connell. We were having such a good time hanging out, in fact, that Billy practically had to drag us all into the other room, jolting us with a loud “Hey, isn’t there supposed to be a concert?”
We all decamped to the cozy living room to find Kristin shyly perched on a chair in the corner, a guitar resting in her lap, the muted candlelight setting the properly eerie tone for a night of intense, often macabre songs. “You can tell which songs aren’t mine,” she joked. “I don’t sing about killing my girlfriends. And they’re not about Jesus.”
Maybe not, but the singular intensity of Kristin’s performances has always struck me as spiritually ecstatic, so pure is her vision. When Throwing Muses started out as a teenage band, the undeniably powerful, off-kilter muscularity of Kristin’s music was startling, even to the group —like a storm that needed unleashing.
The storm’s calmed down a bit since then. These days, Kristin’s a relaxed, genuinely funny performer, cracking jokes and regaling us with stories between songs. Which is not to say that there weren’t any edges to her performance, or that she’s become in some way complacent. Not at all. She’s just found a new kind of equilibrium. And no-one sings songs about zombie brides quite like she does.
I’ve seen K. a lot. I’ve seen her in London, New York, San Francisco, Providence, Boston —just about everywhere. And I remember a special little something from every one of those performances. At a club show, the performer is inevitably put on a pedestal, and it skews the vibe of the show —gives it a worshipful air, no matter how down-to-earth the performer. This night was made special not just by the music, but the overall vibe —all of us felt like old friends who’d been brought together by their favorite music. It was an absolutely lovely evening. And if that sounds incredibly dorky, well, I’m a dork. And I’m okay with that.
Thanks to Kristin & Billy for making it such a special night. And big thanks to Tine & her family for making us feel at home and for being such gracious hosts.
I’ll leave you with some music: two songs from a full band with strings performance in Pittsburgh last year, and one song from K’s recent mammoth undertaking of recording an A-Z songset spanning her entire career. All 5 discs are available (as a box set and separately) here.
If you like what you hear, I humbly ask that you please leave a little something in K’s tip jar. (It’s over to the right, above the Amazon logo.)
Kristin Hersh, “Hook in Her Head”, Live in Pittsburgh, May 26, 2007
Kristin Hersh, “Sugarbaby”, Live in Pittsburgh, May 26, 2007
Kristin Hersh, “Pearl” [from 10-4 Volume 3]
PHOTO BY DINA DOUGLASS