Gig Review and Photography by John Bentley

Throwing Muses, Kristin Hersh, Manchester Academy, 19-9-14

Throwing Muses were one of the iconic indie / alternative rock bands of the 1980s / 90s and, unusually, they were once fronted by two strong women who were the band’s songwriters / singers / guitarists: Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly. Donelly left the band in 1991 for a career with The Breeders and Belly, then solo. Now she’s back, providing not only the support act, but also joining her former band for several songs.

Tanya Donelly band, Manchester Academy, 19-9-14

The audience at Manchester’s Academy 2 is mostly made up of folk old enough to remember Throwing Muses’s golden era. There are many really devoted fans here tonight, some of whom are following the US band round on this relatively rare UK tour. Notably I speak to Vinh, who hails from San Francisco and, has come all the way from the USA to follow the tour. His main concern, he tells me, is how he is going to get to relatively isolated Holmfirth in Yorkshire, for the next night’s gig. He’s pretty clued up about the Muses and Donelly, and I’m grateful to him for some help with this review.

Tanya Donelly, Manchester Academy, 19-9-14

Tanya Donelly takes to the stage with a very broad smile. “I’m Tanya”, she announces with a grin, as if we didn’t know. The set consists of  songs from her solo career, along with others recorded with Belly and Throwing Muses. Her solo material, like ‘Snow Goose And Me’ puts a great emphasis on her song-craft and the range of her voice and is more gentle than the Belly and Muses songs. Fittingly, her three-man band provide a very subtle backing to these songs, playing acoustic / electric guitars and a cello. Her singing voice is on great form, clear and powerful, almost country-like.

However, the strongest audience response is for her old band classics, including Belly’s ‘Low Red Moon’ and ‘Dusted’ and Throwing Muses’s exquisite ‘Honeychain’. She finishes with Belly’s ‘Slow Dogs’, after apologising for spitting into the audience while singing. “When I make a ‘p’ I spit”, she explains, laughing as she realises the ambiguity of what she’s said. She leaves the stage to rapturous applause.

Throwing Muses, Kristin Hersh, Manchester Academy, 19-9-14

Throwing Muses are now a three-piece band, with Kristin Hersh on guitar and (long standing) members Bernard Georges (bass) and David Narciso (drums). The set starts off with the single ‘Sunray Venus’ and several other songs from their most recent album, the relatively downbeat ‘Purgatory / Paradise’ (2013). Hersh delivers a passionate, snarling vocal, shredding the stark lyrics she spits out.

Throwing Muses, Kristin Hersh & Tanya Donelly, Manchester Academy, 19-9-14

Throwing Muses’s music is intricate, with shifting tempos, unorthodox song structures and surreal, often bleak, lyrics. As musicians, the band members are highly accomplished, with David Narciso being known for his unusual drumming techniques, often without the use of cymbals. Besides his expressive bass playing, Bernard Georges is also known as a skilled custom cycle maker.

Throwing Muses, Bernard Georges, Manchester Academy, 19-9-14

The earlier albums, made with Donelly, balanced darker songs with more upbeat, poppier moments and made use of vocal harmonies. So it’s interesting when Tanya Donelly joins her old bandmates on stage mid-set for several older Muses songs: ‘You Cage’, ‘Red Shoes’, ‘Devil’s Roof’, ‘Green’ and ‘Say Goodbye’. On ‘Devil’s Roof’ Hersh and Donelly perform a vocal duet and do a bit of guitar sparring, bringing a lighter quality to the set, after the harder songs at the beginning.  Donelly then takes lead vocal on ‘Green’. The set finishes with the cascading ‘Say Goodbye’, from 1991’s ‘The Real Ramona’ album, one of the Muses best received and most commercial offerings.

Throwing Muses, Kristin Hersh & Tanya Donelly, Manchester Academy, 19-9-14

The band reappear, without Donelly, for the rousing encore, performing old favourites ‘Shark’ and ‘Bright Yellow Gun’. “Thanks for coming”, shouts Hersh. The clapping, stamping and general noise continues until they reappear for a second encore, with the haunting ‘Pearl’, from 1992’s ‘Red Heaven’ album. The song ends with an instrumental workout, including some solid drumming from David Narciso. More clapping and stamping, but this time the venue lights go up and it’s time to go home. But for some of the hardened fans, thoughts will be turning to seeing the band’s next gigs on the current UK tour. I hope Vinh made it to Holmfirth ok.

2 Responses to “Throwing Muses + Tanya Donelly at The Academy 2, Manchester, UK – 19th September 2014”

  1. Colin Bloor Says:

    Vinh made it ok!

  2. john bentley Says:

    Excellent! I thought he wouldn’t miss their gig for anything!

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