Kristin Hersh

St Paul's, Worthing - 30th March 2019
It would be difficult to find a more assertively masculine building than St Paul’s Church in Worthing. Fronted by huge, unadorned columns it appears as an almost brutalist attempt at classicism: a solid, uncompromising statement that God is unbending, untouchable and undoubtedly Anglican. Not for St Paul’s the simple honesty of the chapel or the intricate finery of the gothic, this is no place for humility or mummery. Internally the decor is the same: blank, symmetrical and lacking in any trace of vulnerability or charm. The massive structure frowns down upon the bars, shops and eating houses that crowd around it in this bustling seaside street as if challenging the very concept of leisure. It is a building meant to humble you with its immensity and power. It is meant to intimidate and awe.

Closed as a place of worship in 1996 (around a hundred years after the authorities finally deigned to let the poor of the town inside), St. Paul’s now operates as an entertainment hub and though Worthing is renowned for its lethargy in supporting alternative music, there is a decent sized crowd in place when Fred Abong takes to the stage with his guitar. He looks tiny in the massive void beneath the bell cupola and he looks a little nervous, cutting a figure that you would bet on inheriting the earth one fine day. As well as playing bass in Kristin Hersh’s electric band, Dr Abong is here to help promote his EPs Homeless and Pulsing, the former a collection of six acoustic tracks, all of which come in at around two minutes, and the latter another six-tracker of songs about half an inch taller. It is difficult not to warm to a musician who smiles apologetically at the end of every song and though it would be easy for his gentle tunes to go overlooked, in this brashest of industries it is often worth the time to take a moment to embrace the unassuming, for there is intelligence, beauty and honesty to be found. Abong’s songs are gentle growers that wrap themselves around you with prolonged exposure, and one even chops and changes in speed and mood in true Throwing Muses style. Fred grows in confidence as his set progresses, both vocally and musically, and when he concludes you are beginning to doubt whether he will even doff his cap to the vicar on the way out.

Kristin Hersh is here to promote last year’s brilliant Possible Dust Clouds album and, much as we love her, she is here how we like her best, loud and electric. Rob Ahlers of 50ft Wave occupies the drum stool with Abong on bass. Actually Fred walks off stage straight away as he has forgotten to bring his instrument with him, while Ahlers will spend most of the evening playing one-handed as he rattles various shaky things in his other hand which we like a lot.

He set list is obviously Dust Clouds heavy, but there is a nice sprinkling of tracks from various solo projects, includIng a terrific, driving version of ‘Your Ghost’ from too many years ago. The hugeness of the venue causes some problems in that Kristin’s voice is difficult to discern at first, but if you tilt your head backwards you can hear the vocals ringing round the cupola; a very human voice creating a spiralling, angelic choir. Here is the dichotomy. This slight singer appears to contradict everything this building represents: a probing, female voice exploring the vagaries of life, forcing herself to be heard in a very muscular environment. It’s a strange sight: a battle of the human spirit throwing itself against the stone certainty of an unbending will. There might be more emotion shown tonight than this place has seen in a century of ritual repetition. Does Kristin feel it? She is quieter than usual, barely speaking, barely even managing the customary mumbled thank yous.

What is clearly obvious is what a stunning guitarist this woman is. She can noodle with the best of them but as her hands fly up and down the neck of her black Strat this does not appear like rock star self-indulgence but a necessity, as if she needs to play to drag her through another day. And it is not pretty patterns she is creating, it is the sound of life: a rush of blood, a pumping heart, a torn spirit. This is not ego at play. It is quite mesmerising to watch and it is easy to get totally lost in the waves of sound as Abong’s bass creates pretty patterns around Ahlers’s insistent beat.

The set ends with the old song ‘The Cuckoo’ and it has been a thoroughly inspiring evening. We move away from the stage barrier – one small length of tape between two stands that you see at queues at the airport. It would have held back all of nobody at all had the need arisen, but this building no longer needs barriers. Once it divided clergy from the congregation and the wealthy from the poor, but we were all together here tonight in spiritual unity. We live in different days.


Kristin hersh in Manchester
Latest Reviews
Facebook Link
Isolation Home