Now about to tour Europe, the band Throwing Muses was formed thirty years ago now, long before any of the kids today were born. Over the last week, they played again, coming up the east coast. Now, I’m biased, because they’ve been my favorite band since I was a kid, but it’s sort of amazing to go to a rock show and discover that your favorite band from Ye Olden Times is actually the most bad-ass rock ’n’ roll trio playing today.
The material is still shocking, and its time signature fun and all-in tight weirdness paved the way for PJ Harvey’s original trio in 1991 (which, on her first trip to America, put on the single most face-obliterating rock show I’ve ever seen. I’m still a little deaf).
But it’s the actual rock-making that’s so exceptional about Throwing Muses. Watching Dave Narcizo play drums — he hits so many drums so often! Surely more and more often than is needed, which is his particular genius, and when he gets up from encores, the seat of his pants is soaked with sweat — points to a central feature of the band’s weirdness. That is: did they just start making songs like this in 1981 because they could, or because no one told them they couldn’t, or what is the deal? Did they just not know how to play their instruments right? And that’s why the songs came out in this wackadoo fashion? That they’d put these rolling slightly bluesy basslines on top of hard art rock guitar backed by a guy who liked to drum like a hick from the sticks in a psycho marching band is really not a thing that makes sense.
For a little historical context of the sounds in the air of 1981, X released their first album, “Los Angeles,” in 1980. REM’s “Murmur” came out in 1983. The Pixies toured as Throwing Muses’ opening act, before recording “Come on Pilgrim,” which wasn’t released until 1987. Slint formed in 1986. Sonic Youth also formed in 1981, tellingly, but then so did the Pet Shop Boys.
That Throwing Muses is on tour I bet feels like a challenge, because there’s nothing worse to imagine than a 30-year-old band trudging its way through its discography. That has the opportunity to be so bad! But live, and playing the great small venues, with no stage show, everyone all casual, Throwing Muses emphasizes its weird roots — from the live versions you get a lot more old-school metal from guitar and bass, and a bit more rockabilly from drums. So instead of a cringey sad trip, you get a monster rough and ready rock band that’d absolutely freak people out if they were coming up in Brooklyn today.
And you also get a band that was extremely young when they started, and so you see them coping with performing some of what is, essentially, juvenilia. (The bonus thing about starting young (though Bernard Georges, equally good-looking, didn’t join the band till 1992) is that each of them looks fabulous today.) Down to the name — Throwing Muses is a TERRIBLE name for a band! Yet sort of wonderful, in the way of all things we dream up when we’re young — to the delicious melodrama of the first album and the first four EPs in particular, a mature band has to face down its excesses. Go ask a writer to read from the stuff they wrote thirty years ago; most would want to crawl in a hole and die. That a band can bring fresh perspective and meaningful interpretation to their early material live, and make it totally kill on-stage — well, I really don’t want to see very many of my other heroes try it.
Live in 1987:
Live in 2001:
Live in 2009:
Live last week: