Kristin Hersh – Duke of York’s Cinema, Brighton – 30th June 2018

Photo by Dan Whitehouse

On a sweltering Saturday night, Brighton was lucky to play host to Kristin Hersh, who performed at Duke of York’s Cinema. The Atlanta-born musician has been making music since the early 80s and has, to date, released ten solo albums, along with her contributions to bands Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave. With another album, titled Possible Dust Clouds, due for release later this year, Hersh has been touring in advance, stopping off in Brighton for the penultimate night of her June tour.

As the oldest cinema to still be continuously used in Britain, Duke of York’s was an interesting venue for Hersh to perform in: a fitting surrounding full of character that translates surprisingly well into a music venue. Before doors had opened, attendees could be seen queuing around the block for the sold out show, proving the soaring temperatures had not been a deterrent.

Taking to the stage first was support act Fred Abong, who was a member of Throwing Muses along with Hersh back in 1990. Abong was also previously part of the Grammy-nominated group Belly, but is now performing as a solo artist, having just released his debut EP, titled Homeless.

Abong performed in a plain T-shirt and trousers, impressing with his unique style, that’s miles away from his previous efforts and collaborations. In both lyrics and instrumentation, there’s a lot of darkness within his music. As soon as he opened his mouth his raspy vocals took me by surprise, but they really add to this gloomy, otherworldly landscape he has created within his songs and performance. Despite being an acoustic set, Abong’s songs had a certain heaviness to them, mostly due to the themes and power within his voice and riffs.

Having impressed the crowd, there was a short break after Abong’s set before Hersh took to the stage. Known for her astonishing live performances, Hersh isn’t exactly what you would call a ‘traditional’ folk artist, taking influence mostly from raw feelings and thoughts and putting them into a collection of work.

While her songs explore her struggles, she is honest and expressive while still empowering. Throughout her performance there was a strange but fascinating atmosphere that consumed the room. To listen to, there is a certain calmness to her music, but taking on board the lyrics and themes, it’s anything but.

As she opened the performance, she stood alone, accompanied just by her guitar, something that’s rare to see for a show of this capacity. Her vocals have a rock edge to them, and it’s a nice contrast with the down-tempo mood. Stood in a light-coloured, leafy dress there was an instant, revealing connection between performer and audience as she shared her emotions with the room.

Highlights included the eerie ‘City of The Dead’ and ‘Your Ghost’, both of which explore the darkest depths of Hersh’s mind. As she progressed through the set, fans applauded after each song, but during the performance of the songs themselves, you wouldn’t have heard a pin drop.

For a warm Saturday night Kristin’s show was a soothing experience. Both her and Abong are very expressive and unpredictable artists, making them hard to pin down in both genre and influence. There’s an abstract feel to Hersh’s music in particular. Having been in the game a long time, it’s clear Hersh still has a highly successful career ahead of her, due to the enthusiasm and commitment of the fans who attended the sold out show. With a new album on the way, I’m sure this tour will have served as a reminder of her talent, along with allowing the fans to reconnect with her.

Dan Whitehouse