Robert Smith’s Meltdown at Southbank Centre marks the 25th anniversary of what is now the UK’s longest-running artist-curated music festival. This year, the ten-day event includes (amongst many others) the likes of Suzanne Vega, Mogwai, Douglas Dare, Placebo, The Libertines and Nine Inch Nails as well as Liminal, the immersive live sound experience by Sigur Ros singer Jónsi, musician and artist Alex Somers and composer Paul Corley. It also sees the welcome return of Throwing Muses figurehead, Kristin Hersh.

The last time Hersh took part in Meltdown Festival (Patti Smith’s 2005 programme), she shared the stage with Marianne Faithfull, Billy Bragg, Sinead O’Connor and Tori Amos. Tonight she is joined only by long-term collaborator, cellist Martin McCarrick, whose accompaniment gives both Throwing Muses material and Hersh’s solo songs an added layer of beauty.

Hersh opens the set with ‘Bright’, the first track from her most recent album, Wyatt At The Coyote Palace, and the audience at the sold-out Queen Elizabeth Hall is instantly transfixed. She then takes things back twenty years to 1998’s ‘Gazebo Tree’, one of the best-loved songs from her second solo record, Strange Angels. It’s a composition that has, throughout her career, remained a live favourite and tonight Hersh performs it with intensity and poise.

A moving rendition of ‘Poor Wayfaring Stranger’ (another Hersh live staple) nestles between recent Throwing Muses single, ‘Sunray Venus’ (performed solo, it boasts a completely different personality) and 1992’s Firepile EP track, ‘City of the Dead’. The latter’s reinterpretation similarly transforms it into a completely new song. In fact, in a show heavy with Throwing Muses numbers, Hersh injects new life into each and every one of them. ‘You Cage’ and ‘Cottonmouth’, both performed during the encore segments, are clear instances in point.

The energetic, brilliant ‘Mississippi Kite’ is contrasted with ‘Flooding’, a heart-wrenching tribute to Hersh’s friend, Vic Chestnutt (the subject matter of her book, Don’t Suck, Don’t Die) and when Hersh moves on to play her first solo single, ‘Your Ghost’, originally sung with Michael Stipe, the guitar and cello duet is at its most effective and it really feels as though the audience is, collectively, at the edge of its seat.

Other highlights include Sunny Border Blue’s ‘Your Dirty Answer’ and Muses rarity ‘White Bikini Sand’, which Hersh brings the main set to an end with.

A dynamic and full-of-feeling show that bodes well for the remainder of Hersh’s UK tour.

Kristin Hersh played:

Gazebo Tree
Sunray Venus
Poor Wayfaring Stranger
City of the Dead
Mississippi Kite
Your Ghost
Your Dirty Answer
Banks of the Ohio
White Bikini Sand
Sno-Cat/You Cage (Medley)