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Pop Music Reviews : 'Mad' 4AD Festival

October 01, 1994|STEVE HOCHMAN

The 4AD record label may be best known as the easy listening wing of new rock with the atmospherics of the Cocteau Twins, et al. But Thursday's edition of the company's weeklong "All Virgos Are Mad" festival was a night of uneasy listening at the Troubadour, with Throwing Muses and Lisa Germano essaying the inner turmoil of being square pegs in a round world.

Well before Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder made reflections of shattered psyches staples of the Top 10, Throwing Muses' Kristin Hersh was a standard-setter for that topic. Fronting the Muses after a year off to concentrate on more subdued solo work, Hersh appeared Thursday as the confident survivor. Unfortunately the material hit a plateau mid-set, the dynamics all starting to sound the same, and the impact of Hersh's tales was diminished.

Germano, probably best known from her days playing fiddle with John Mellencamp, presented an even more disturbing picture of the struggle to define one's self in a confusing world--the theme of her upcoming album, "Geek the Girl." Liz Phair's been anointed the quintessential '90s pop woman, but Germano takes it much deeper, if harder to define.

There was a sweet, innocent sense of acceptance of this geeky status in her almost shy presentation and brittle, slightly off-kilter music, but always with a shadow of menace underneath. It surfaced dramatically with a mid-set song about her fear of a real-life obsessive pursuer that she preceded by stating, her expression frighteningly serious, "I hope he dies."

Quieter but still disquieting was the spellbinding opening set by Heidi Berry, an English folk-based singer-songwriter with a haunting alto and haunted themes that called to mind the songs of the late Nick Drake as if sung by the late Sandy Denny.

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