There’s a moment of clarity when Kristin Hersh plays the opening bars of ‘The Cuckoo’.
A traditional track that first appeared on her solo debut, 1994’s Hips And Makers, her singing is initially backed by just guitar and shaker. It’s one of the rare occasions during the set that the individual stringed instruments and the raw emotion in her voice can be heard.
The calm sadly can’t last and, too soon, Rob Ahlers’ drums crash in and drown out the detail. It’s a rattly and echoey sound that does ill justice to the percussionist’s abilities. Instead the problem lies in the acoustics of the high roof of the former church (“have you all been to confession?” he asks while instruments are being swapped).
Hersh has undoubtedly become used to the challenges of playing in inappropriate venues over the course of her career, which spans 30 years and takes in solo work, alt-rock favourites Throwing Muses, and power trio 50ft Wave. Yet she remains a centre of calm throughout, only acknowledging the muddy sound when re-tuning her guitar (“I’ve got G-string trouble, just like strippers!”).
This results in a frustrating set during which elliptical tales of uncertainty, confusion, and domesticity only rarely manage to surface. ‘Mississippi Kite’ is one of these successes, its seething blues having a terrifying intensity when she cautions, “You told me enough times you can’t give me enough rope / To hang myself one time, but I can always hope.”
Seething fury is an emotion at which Hersh excels, the shrill voice of her early recordings now weathered into a ravaged howl. This suits ‘Halfway Home’, another stand out track, in which her grungy guitar and Ahlers’ backing vocals add an element of texture.
Less satisfying is her attempt to rock-up ‘Your Ghost’, the longing within the original acoustic track lost amid its growling arrangements. It is, nonetheless, the only real crowd pleaser in the hour-long set, which is dominated by last year’s Possible Dust Clouds. An unfortunate showcase for the album, its material deserves better sound than afforded tonight.