Kristen Hersh - vocals, guitar; Bernard Georges - bass; David Narcizo - drums
This Throwing Muses performance comes at a crucial time in the band's history. While the band is in between two of their most successful records, The Real Ramona and Red Heaven, the behind-the-scenes turmoil is reaching fever pitch. Aside from the band being sued by a former manager, founding member Tanya Donelly had departed with bassist Fred Abong, who Hersh then replaced with former-roadie Bernard Georges. A second guitarist did not replace Donelly, and the outfit became a trio.
Nevertheless, the band gives a great performance at the Providence's Club Babyhead (now known as Club Hell) for one of their three hometown crowds (Newport, Rhode Island and Boston also lay claims to the band). The drums are eccentric as always, slipping into odd interpretations of time signatures and driving reconsidered railroad rhythms as necessary. Hersh's guitar work is admirable, especially on the crunchy "Firepile" and the brief interlude "Vic" (both were being tested for possible release later that year). Bassist Bernard Georges helps fill out the soundwaves, using double-stops to cover some of the would-be rhythm guitar.
The setlist is quite varied: While the focus is on recent releases ("Take," "Mania," "Say Goodbye," and "Bea" all come from Hunk Papa; "Say Goodbye" and "Two Step" are from The Real Ramona), the songs "Fish," "Fear," and "Hate My Way" reach all the way back to the band's so-called Doghouse Cassette, a self-distributed assortment of demos from 1985 that made up the bulk of material recorded for their first LP. Furthermore, "Firepile" and "Vic," as noted, were released later in 1992 on the Red Heaven LP; "Teller" finally showed up on 1995's University; and "Snailhead" was not released until their collection of rarities, In A Doghouse, came out in 1998.
Throwing Muses began as a collaboration between Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly, stepsisters that had already become school friends when their parents met and married. They began playing music together at 14 in 1981, a collaboration that Hersh reportedly muscled her sister into. Drummer David Narcizo joined the band in 1983 and bassist Leslie Langston rounded out the group in 1984. Narcizo and Hersh are the only two bandmates that remained with the group for the duration of its lifespan; Donelly and second bassist Fred Abong split in 1992 to form Belly.
After making a name for themselves with the single "Sinkhole" on the college radio circuit, Throwing Muses was the first American signee on the British 4AD label. (Pals and contemporaries the Pixies followed Throwing Muses through the door.) Although they had a following in their enclaves Providence, Rhode Island and Boston, their first record was released in the UK in 1986 but was unavailable stateside except as an import. The band signed an agreement with Sire Records in 1987 to take care of domestic distribution.
House Tornado (1988) expanded on the approach of their debut, introducing unorthodox drum patterns and time signatures, and maintaing a fast clip while remaining unpredictable in direction. The first record Sire Records had an impact on was 1989's Hunkpapa. They nudged Hersh to take a mainstream approach with her writing, and she conceded with one song, the single "Dizzy," which was given the remix treatment and turned into a hit, much to the band's chagrin.
1991's The Real Ramona is seen as the band's most approachable record, and their most defining. The record integrates Throwing Muses' penchant for unlikely song structures with an endearing pop quality. But the record also marks the end of the Hersh-Donelly era. Donelly, having become more ambitious as a writer and guitarist, had already been working with the Pixies' Kim Deal, co-founding The Breeders in 1990; and after touring in support of The Real Ramona Donelly left Throwing Muses to form The Breeders, taking bassist Fred Abong with her.
By this time, Hersh had begun performing solo numbers live. Her first solo collection, Live at Maxwell's, was released as a bonus disc with Throwing Muses' Red Heaven in 1992, and her studio output as a solo artist has been nearly constant ever since, even while playing with the Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave (founded with Bernard Georges and drummer Rob Ahlers after David Narcizo retired from the road to focus on graphic design). Throwing Muses officially disbanded in 1997; their most recent recording was a reunion effort, the self-titled 2003 release, which coincided with the release of Hersh's The Grotto. 50 Foot Wave, Hersh, and Donelly remain active performers. Hersh and Donelly most recently performed a one-off co-headlined show, playing a full set together, in October 2007.