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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    No rest for singer Hersh

    Legendary indie singer Kristin Hersh once toured with the Pixies in their heyday; this weekend she joins John Doe, Howe Gelb and other indie luminaries for Club Congress 21st birthday  celebration.
    Legendary indie singer Kristin Hersh once toured with the Pixies in their heyday; this weekend she joins John Doe, Howe Gelb and other indie luminaries for Club Congress’ 21st birthday celebration.

    Kristin Hersh likes Tucson. She wouldn’t be doing her second show here in less than four months if she didn’t.

    “”I love Tucson. It has that crazy blue clarity to the sky. You get the monsoons, you haven’t killed off all your nature yet, and we find lizards and snakes wherever we go,”” said the wide-eyed, gravel-voiced singer, best known for fronting the eccentric late-’80s indie legends Throwing Muses and the feral punk outfit 50 Foot Wave.

    Maybe she sees something of her own wild nature in the stark, surreal landscape of Southern Arizona. The Muses’ early shows were notoriously chaotic, and 50 Foot Wave is noisy and confrontational enough to make Courtney Love seem like a shrinking violet.

    Even solo, plucking an acoustic guitar and gazing steadily into the audience with a look that could make a skinhead quail, Hersh seems to conjure up a spirit more akin to Johnny Rotten than Joni Mitchell.

    “”I think it feels different than it looks,”” Hersh said. “”If I don’t disappear into the song, I can’t play anymore.””

    Hersh, who last played here in May, will return to join more than 40 artists who will be gracing the stages at Hotel Congress this weekend to celebrate the venerable Tucson club’s 21st anniversary. The three-day festival features some indie rock luminaries as well as a veritable garage-full of established and up-and-coming local bands.

    Both of Hersh’s bands are still around. “”We never broke up, we just never had enough money to be in the studio,”” Hersh said of the Muses. But she’ll be performing solo this time, like her friends and fellow underground rock legends Howe Gelb, John Doe and Vic Chesnutt, all of whom will perform at

    Congress on Sunday, the last night of the festival.

    But Hersh is something special even against this remarkable backdrop. Almost alone among the great underground rock singers of her time, she is still at the height of her considerable singing and songwriting powers.

    Indeed, judging from her live shows and 50 Foot Wave’s scorching records – to date, one album and two EPs – she might be better than ever. And she’s done it while raising four children and maintaining what, judging from her highly articulate and readable blog, seems like a relatively normal family life.

    Hersh in conversation – bright, brash and likable – seems a world away from the tormented, obsessive, shadow-haunted soul that you hear on her records, moaning like a lunatic or shrieking like a banshee. Hersh shrugs it off.

    “”I didn’t know what I was doing,”” Hersh said of her early work. “”I’m still not exactly sure what I’m doing! Even listening to Throwing Muses for me now is kind of confusing.””

    Like Bob Dylan, who has said that he feels like a “”ghost”” was responsible for writing his greatest songs, Hersh seems to regard herself as a sort of conduit for something else that speaks through her.

    “”I don’t think I’ve ever written a song on purpose. They just kind of appear in my head and I write them down,”” she said.

    Hersh said she’s happy with her long-awaited new solo album, Learn to Sing Like a Star, scheduled for a January release. The album took almost a year to make, but she thinks the extra time paid off.

    “”I didn’t leave the studio wishing I’d had more time. I always do, but this time I didn’t.””

    Surprisingly, Hersh said she never listens to other people’s records and only listens to her own when she has to re-learn (or “”download,”” as she puts it) the older songs for touring.

    “”Yeah, I hate music!”” Hersh laughed. “”If it’s good, it hurts my feelings; if it’s bad, it makes me angry.””

    Hersh may hurt your feelings, but by that definition, you can rest assured that she’ll never make you angry.

    Hersh is playing at the Club Congress 21st Birthday Celebration on Sunday. Doors open at 5 p.m. and admission for the night is $10.

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