50 Foot Wave Swamps Cambridge

12 August 2006, 9:42 am

I may try to write something more like a review and less like fanboy gush for some other venue, but I wanted to share my overriding impression of 50 Foot Wave live while it was still raw: I think this band is about as close as you’re gonna get to seeing Nirvana after Bleach and before Nevermind.

I don’t mean to suggest that they’re derivative or a pale imitation, like some of the not-so-great bands that got signed in the grunge heyday. They’re playing music that’s unmistakably Kristin Hersh’s — but they’re pushing a lot of the same buttons that classic Nirvana pushed.

The overlap between Nirvana’s bag of tricks and 50 Foot Wave’s is substantial: Propulsive bass (Bernard Georges is a god). Frenetic but accurate drumming (Rob Ahlers is also a god). Airtight arrangements — 50 Foot Wave has a particular penchant for 1, 2, and 4 beat tacets to show off just how tight they are. And like the late Cobain, Hersh mixes leather-throated howls that somehow stay in key with confessional asides. Also like Cobain, her lyrics draw on obscure but resonant impressionism, acute emotional insights, and wordless vocal sounds. Hersh has always been an intense vocal perfomer (she can be more than a little bit frightening) the full-throttle approach of 50 Foot Wave suits her very well.

In 50 Foot Wave — in contrast to her often more nuanced guitar work with the Throwing Muses — Hersh mostly delivers frenzied guitar riffs with a super-thick tone, seasoned by short, incisive solos, and broken up by ocassional drops into sludgy half-speed. (Tricky tempo games all night long made me think that Hersh has yet to get her due as a founder of math rock; she doesn’t tend to use proggy time signatures, but many of her songs shift gears just where you don’t expect them to.) 50 Foot Wave’s material is generally cathartic more than catchy, relying on energy more than melody — which maybe makes the hooks even more brain-grabbing when they do pop up.

50 Ft Wave’s set left me sweaty and satisfied, feeling I’d already got my money’s worth. The response they drew from the crowd made me wonder if Hersh and Georges had just upstaged that other band in which they were headlining. (It turned out they hadn’t, but I was still delighted to see the new material greeted with such enthusiasm.) I also thought Hersh looked happier playing with 50 Foot Wave than I’d ever seen her on stage (big grins in between songs). But she was pretty smiley during Throwing Muses’ set, too.

I was bummed that my sweetie was stuck 500 miles away and couldn’t be there. I do hope Bradley recorded it. But a recording of a show (even a very good recording) is still more like getting a postcard of a stunning view than actually seeing it.

I’ve written about the Throwing Muses before. I could swear I wrote a moderately rave review of Hersh’s solo effort Sunny Border Blue too, but the Internets don’t seem to back me up on that claim.

4 comments on “50 Foot Wave Swamps Cambridge”

  1. Paula

    I have long admired (at certain points worshipped) K. Hersh, and I have tons of respect for her for starting 50 Ft Wave. Most musicians get mellower with age, and she has gone in the opposite direction.

  2. brad

    I wondered why my ears were ringing… this explains it :)

    I did indeed record it, although I may hold off on sharing it up, as Throwing Music will be offering an ‘official’ bootleg recording of the show by the end of the month. I might put up a few songs as a ‘tease’, but I don’t want to step on their toes…

    (it’s the very least I can do for the people indirectly responsible for me meeting and marrying the love of my life! :-))



  3. summervillain

    Throwing Music will be offering an ‘official’ bootleg recording of the show by the end of the month.

    Ooh, excellent news, thanks for the heads up!

  4. jon manyjars

    I am a big fan of 50 Foot Wave’s records, and your live review has me hoping that the band comes to Atlanta or Athens. I agree with the Nirvana comparison. I thought of Nirvana the first time I heard “Sally Is a Girl”.


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