The reunited US college rockers get startling heavy at what may be their final UK appearance

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Kristin Fundamentalism

Throwing Muses

THE ASTORIA, LONDON

THURSDAY MARCH 20, 2003

Anyone who thinks Throwing Muses are a forgotten force would have been converted by the mob scenes tonight. Not to mention crushed. Sardines live in penthouse suites compared to this, and the venue’s bouncers are, naturally, taking their stress out on us evil, irrelevant punters. Sometimes you just want to see one of the great bands of the last 20 years play a rare reunion gig without wannabe John Prescotts killing the mood. I mean, this isn’t Linkin Park.

Then again… The Muses are heavy shit tonight. Not just in their usual sense of deep and pained and meaningful, but in that they’re rocking loudly, abrasively, sometimes sludgily, often ecstatically. With just the three of them up there, there’s little in the way of spectacle, but plenty in the way of focused, undiluted, pinpoint power. They’re still perhaps perceived by outsiders as angular, arthouse, poetry-reading girl rock, but the second half of their career was neo-metal, and tonight they’ve pretty much neglected to bother with that “neo” prefix. David Narcizo’s drums and Bernard Georges’ bass combine to sound like half a dozen musicians, and Kristin Hersh’s output on both voice and guitar is matched for obsessive intricacy only by her customary head-bobbing (and weaving) motions. Staring out at us from, as ever, somewhere unfathomably deep within her soul, she’s taking this seriously.

Backstage she’s all smiles and baby-rearing (her fourth, Bohdi, is in attendance), but that unaffected, uncompromising on-stage persona tells you why Muses fans tend to be devoted die-hards. Their zeal is partly responsible for this one-off comeback show. There are rumours it’ll be the Muses’ last UK gig, but afterwards the word is they might be persuaded to make festival appearances this year.

This particular Frenzy Reunited came about after activity on the band’s website?www.throwingmusic.com?reached a critical mass, long after the group disbanded for financial reasons in ’97. Despite Hersh’s family commitments and, of course, solo career (also, drummer Narcizo now runs a successful graphic design company), the trio were impressed by the fact that fans had initiated two huge conventions for the defunct band?in Boston and San Francisco?to be named The Gut Pageant. Instead of running a mile from these infatuated geeks, the band elected to play at the events. Their success led to the new, hastily recorded album, and shows like this. “We were all still in love with the songs, and with each other,” Hersh has said. How far it’ll go remains to be seen, but the guys stress they’re just taking time out from their day jobs, and Hersh’s new solo album, The Grotto, is of equal importance to her.

The set draws on the later, post-Tanya Donelly material, taken chiefly from the last few of the eight albums. (Donelly contributes backing vocals on the new LP, but isn’t here). “Furious” from Red Heaven opens, “Shark” from Limbo chases that. University sends envoys in the skewed shapes of “Start”, “Hazing” and “Bright Yellow Gun”. The bulk of the brouhaha comes from the ferociously full-blast, recently released eponymous opus, with “Civil Disobedience”, “Pretty Or Not” and “Pandora’s Box” among the highlights. Only at the end do we get the nostalgia some of us admit to craving, as “Two Step” from ’91’s The Real Ramona hovers and glows. As an encore, the multi-stranded “Mania” never fails to move mountain ranges, or to induce the most lyrically complex mass sing-along imaginable.

It’s as hot and crowded as it is inside our heads, as their songs invariably are. Everybody’s Hersh sometimes. This isn’t quite a eulogy, but the Muses were/are as rare and startling as a unicorn.