concert reviews

50 Foot Wave at Iota, Arlington, VA, Sunday 16 May 2004

Kristin Hersh has spent the last 20 years playing in the rock band Throwing Muses and performing her own mellow solo songs. She brought her latest project, 50 Foot Wave, to Iota on Sunday night for a 45-minute set that teetered between pounding punk and screeching metal.

Fifty feet understates the tsunami of bludgeoning sound that assaulted the crowd, which gradually grew smaller as the set went on. While many probably left due to the sheer loudness of the music, the unbalanced mix in the club was also a problem, favoring the bass and drums over Hersh's guitar. Her vocals, which alternated between a growl and a bleat, were barely audible over the muddy mix.

Despite the poorly adjusted sound, Hersh raged all night, shrieking lyrics and pounding at her guitar, her facial expressions always restrained and glassy. Hersh's impersonal presentation, rarely speaking directly to the audience other than an occasional "thank you," gave a cold feeling to the set, and the audience's only reaction to her venomous singing was a rhythmic bounce.

The band, which also includes drummer Rob Ahlers and former Muses bassist Bernard Georges, closed with "Dog Days" from its debut EP, which somehow overcame most of the sound problems to be one of the tightest songs of the performance -- and the only one whose lyrics were distinguishable.

-- Catherine P. Lewis

.: Originally published: The Washington Post, 18 May 2004
.: Selected discography: 50 Foot Wave (50 Foot Wave, 2004); Sunny Border Blue (Kristin Hersh, 2001); Sky Motel (Kristin Hersh, 1999); The Real Ramona (Throwing Muses, 1991).