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[whitespace] Hips and Shakers

Kristin Hersch's muse is still strong even if her songs don't chart like they used to

By David Espinoza

THE '90S MAY BE LOOKED BACK upon as one of the better decades for women in rock, if one recalls riot grrls, the Lilith Fair and Ani DiFranco's Righteous Babe Records. But for those who's memory goes farther back to the late '80s, when boys in Spandex had to prove their macho with less-than-flattering songs about women, there were quite a few exceptional female rockers even before it was hip. One of these artists of the modern rock era happened to find her way to Santa Cruz Wednesday, Sept. 8.

This being a sit down show at Palookaville, Throwing Muses frontwoman Kristin Hersch used the intimate setting to her advantage, drawing her audience of straight-up Gen Xers into her sad, proto-alternative folk tales. Sitting alone on an empty stage and bathed in dark blue light, Hersh exhibited the qualities of a player who has reached the pinnacle of one's music. Unfortunately, she also showed the signs of wear and tear of someone who's been in the business a long, long time.

Like so many artists of her time whose names don't get as much attention as they used to (where is Suzanne Vega anyway?), Hersh has seen better days. While her music still has that distinct, modern rock edginess, there seems to be little interest in it these days as the nostalgia circuit hasn't quite reached the late '80s early '90s Stone Roses, Midnight Oil, Kate Bush point yet. Even so, Hersh remains a intense performer, always singing with her pretty blue eyes staring off into an abyss while her head sways side to side. During her recital of the spine-tingling "Your Ghost" (one of the best songs she ever wrote, originally sung with Michael Stipe), Hersh seemed close to breaking down, barely hitting the notes as she gasped, "I think last night, you were driving circles around me."

As for the opening act, San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Ashia might have made a better impression if it weren't for the uninterested crowd's chatter over her set. Either way, her one part Joni Mitchell to three parts overly dramatic folk-rock songs probably would have fared better at the Kuumbwa or Henflings. While definitely good stuff, Ashia's set suffered from her well-intentioned but overbearing backup vocalist/cellist, who's very adept leads diluted Ashia's bright lyrics. The stylishly dressed Ashia should have known better when she announced the next tune would be a "happy song called 'Hypnotized'"--the words "happy" and "cello" don't go together. Whether for Nirvana, PJ Harvey or Built to Spill, a cello introduced to a rock or folk setting it works best when the music is dark and tragic.

The Anticruz

Update on last week's "Bands Banding Together" alert: The coalition of folks working on the project--a collective of local bands and punk-rock enthusiasts that wants to develop underground show venues--has come up with the name Anticruz. While the group is still in the planning stages, organizers seem very serious about establishing a nonprofit organization dedicated to building up resources for local musicians, or as one puts it, "Unity of the underground." With a grassroots appeal, a mission statement ready to go and an info line at 689.1979--and a little luck--Anticruz will have their first benefit show date set soon. Stay tuned for details.

Mountains and Rocks

One last thing. If you happen to be lost in the woods up in the hills of Felton Saturday night and hear thunderous heavy metal, don't be surprised. Looks like the Felton Community Hall is getting back into the swing of things with a show from some hard-rocking local bands: Ohms, Dylyzma and Galadriel. Though it's a bit of a drive, the contrast of outside nighttime air with indoor raw rock & roll has to be good for the brain. The show starts at 8pm.

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From the September 22-29, 1999 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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