Noise Pop Review: Throwing Muses, Mark Eitzel at Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, 2/28/14

by Joel Edelman on March 1, 2014

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We were treated to the standard older-band-promoting-a-new-album set, with Throwing Muses playing a large section of Purgatory/Paradise. I know it gets boring playing the same songs hundreds of times over 30-plus years. But sometimes that’s what people want. Luckily we got some of that too.

Opener Mark Eitzel is no stranger to Noise Pop, and he put out a typical rendition of his what-the-folk sound. The American Music Club lead singer played for 45 minutes to a crowd on the carpet. Next was a 15 minute break.

Around 9 p.m., Throwing Muses took the stage to cheers of what appeared to be a lot of original fans. Sometimes when you see an aging band the audience has a lot of children and second wives. Not so at this show. I guess this band’s fanbase didn’t settle down the way fans of other ’90s stalwarts did. Then again the crowd was 80 percent dudes so maybe they’re still looking. Yes, it was a veritable sausage fest but, considering the venue, hopefully not pork.

I had trouble hearing the band banter with the crowd, but based on the audience’s response, Kristin Hersh and company were clearly funny. Sometimes I think Hersh had the same problem I did as it took several tries for her to hear an audience member say the word “elaborate.” I guess we’re all struggling to age gracefully. Or maybe the sound was just bad.

The band had the three members one would expect: Hersh, drummer David Narcizo, and bassist Bernard Georges. Tanya Donelly will be joining them in a couple months at a few select West and East Coast shows but none locally.

Throwing Muses played a ton of tracks from the new album. At one point, someone yelled out “old school,” and Georges, who like the rest of the band was drinking a Gordon Biersch, asked, “are you calling us old school, or are you asking us to play old school?” It seemed that everyone in the room knew the answer to that. Later, someone yelled “play ‘Dizzy’!” to which Hersh responded “oh my God,” perhaps because she hadn’t thought of the song in a while. If that were the case, then it was too bad that she hadn’t.

The drummer was wearing one of the tour shirts. Its design has the slash from the cover art of Purgatory/Paradise on the front, and a smaller version of the entire album title on the back. ┬áKristin offered to sign it for him. I always wonder when a band member wears its own tour shirt if it’s because the laundry has piled up too high. I mean, it rained all day. All he had to do was stick it out the window while they were driving into town, then let it air dry.

Of the new songs, “Cherry Candy” put the slow-to-respond audience into an even deeper trance. Many of the tracks on Purgatory/Paradise have two versions, but “Cherry Candy” stood out because the band played both versions back to back.

Although the new album is good-not-great and we were being inundated with new material, the hour or so of their main set flew by. The set itself was fairly unspectacular, but it is possible they’re still learning to play the new songs live. I think if you’re going to be in the same band for 16 years, then take time off and come back, it helps to have some sort of challenge.

After the main set, the crowd didn’t do the best job in requesting an encore. Georges came out first and had to encourage the crowd to be loud enough to muster an encore.

When the rest of the band came out, we received a 6-song encore capped off with “Snakeface” and “Bright Yellow Gun.” This is what the crowd was waiting for! “Snakeface” in particular was one of the most energetic performances of the night. “Bright Yellow Gun” felt so obvious and obligatory that even the audience was nonplussed. And the band itself seemed annoyed as they plowed through their so-called radio hit.

Oddly, the crowd did a fine job earning a second encore, and we got “Pearl,” which was quite a treat. Listening to the lyrics, it did make me wonder why Spinning Platters luminary Marie Carney wasn’t at this show, but whatever. Anyway, the band’s performance of the classics was more lively than for the new stuff, as was the audience reaction. Chew on that and draw your own conclusions.The show left a good taste at the end and reminded me of the gay-marriage episode of the Simpsons when Howell Huser visited Springfield and give it his lowest rating ever, a 6 out of 10. Thankfully I wasn’t fed misleading gum. In fact, it was some of the best strawberry gum I’ve ever tasted.

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