Kristin Hersh - vocals, guitars; David Narcizo - drums; Bernard Georges - bass
This fantastic set from Newport, Rhode Island-based trio Throwing Muses was originally captured for a radio show and now appears exclusively on Wolfgang's Vault. The performance was captured on September 7, 1996, the same year the band announced what would become a seven-year hiatus.
The group had just released their seventh studio album, Limbo, and unsurprisingly, four of the show's six songs are from that album. They open with the upbeat, sharp "Shark," the last song from the 1996 LP, and move straight into their next number "Ruthie's Knocking." Both songs highlight vocalist/guitarist Kristin Hersh's powerful vocals and smart melodic sense. "Night Driving," another track from Limbo, showcases the band's impressive range, as they dial back the energy and craft a meandering, shoe-gazing piece that feels just like the lazy evening drives the song is about.
One of the set's major highlights is an old song. The trio performs "Bea," a track from their 1990 release Hunkpapa. The drum-driven track sums up what made the group so popular during their run. Bassist Bernard Georges and David Narcizo build a solid backdrop for Hersh to add her open, fuzzy guitar chords and assured vocals over, to form their signature sound.
While this is only a short set that is focused on a small part of the group's long career, this concert serves as a reminder that, while they are mostly remembered for 1991's The Real Ramona and 1995's University, there is more to the group's catalog those albums. It will also be a timely reminder of the group's influential sound, as Hersh, Narcizo, and Georges have recently reformed and toured.
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 U.K. 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 maintaining 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.