It had been a very strange day. It was really hot for the whole day and then the heaven’s opened up and it rained in biblical proportions for brief periods in the evening. There was much confusion because legendary noise rockers Dinosaur Jr were playing across town at The Gov and many had made the difficult choice between PJ or Dino Jr. As it turned out Ms Harvey was on stage just after 8pm and Dinosaur Jr didn’t start until close to 10:30pm meaning the tenacious could see both. The heat and the rain made for an uncomfortable humid sweatbox inside Thebby. Close to full house and GA on the floor meant heat was pulsating in every direction.
I have been asked ‘how was PJ Harvey?’ and the most accurate response I can come up with was “kind of awesome”. It was very dramatic staging, from the lighting and imposing backdrop. It was mostly new material leaning heavily on the last two albums with just a few old favourites towards the end. The nine piece band made a dramatic entrance dressed in black, mostly in shadows, playing drums and wind instruments like a funeral procession and PJ was wearing a jacket covered in what looks like ravens feathers and black mini skirt.
There is no doubt as to where her focus is at present as the first five songs are all from last years The Hope Six Demolition Project. The theme of the album, recorded in open to the public sessions as part of an art installation in London, looked at and told stories about a kind of modern social cleansing. Where public housing in ‘bad areas’ were being knocked down and replaced by new housing often that the previous residents could not afford. The nature of these politically charged songs, is emotional and moving, if not exactly made for the dance floor. By three songs in though The Community of Hope is taking us to some pretty extraordinary places. Her voice is majestic and her once stage charisma irresistible.
The band, including long time collaborators ex-Bad Seed Mick Harvey and guitarist John Parrish are impeccable and the on stage sound is perfect. They are mostly in the shadows and leaving the focus on Polly Jean. She plays no guitar this evening, but is adding to the horn section by playing saxophone on certain tracks. The tracks from the previous album Let England Shake (The Words Maketh Murder, Glorious Land and the title song) were among the material that marked a seismic change in her style and technique a few years ago. Not quite so ‘rock’ and more akin to her one-time duet partner Mr Cave.
Both these records are outstanding, but I suspect some of the audience were not prepared for them to make up quite so much of the set. Tonight there is nothing from Harvey albums like Dry, Is This Desire or Stories From The Sea. Like Kate Bush’s heralded return to the live stage a couple of years ago, the casual fan expecting a greatest hits and memories might be disappointed in the set list. Both performers are artists and interested in being more than nostalgia acts. For those who trusted Polly Jean and her sterling band this was a remarkable journey to be part of.
That trust was also rewarded with a clutch of well loved songs toward the end of the main set. 50ft Queenie, Down By The Water and To Bring You My Love to, were all certainly rapturously received but the only concessions to her past musical projects.
Given the theatrical nature of the show PJ may have been more suited to the Festival Theatre (currently being occupied by Dusty) or Her Majesties. The GA arrangement downstairs seemed to give people license to chat away to each other during songs they didn’t know (i.e. most of the set) and diminish some of the effect of such a dramatic and almost operatic performance.
Thank you Polly Jean. You are amazing!
Photos & Review by Ian Bell
Chain of Keys (The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
The Ministry of Defence (The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
The Community of Hope (The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
The Orange Monkey (The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
A Line in the Sand (The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
Let England Shake (Let England Shake 2011)
The Words That Maketh Murder (Let England Shake 2011)
The Glorious Land (Let England Shake 2011)
Medicinals (The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
When Under Ether (White Chalk 2007)
Dollar, Dollar (The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
The Devil (White Chalk 2007)
The Wheel (The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
The Ministry of Social Affairs (The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
50ft Queenie (Rid of Me 1993)
Down By The Water (To Bring You My Love 1995)
To Bring You My Love (To Bring You My Love 1995)
River Anacostia (The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
Guilty (none album single from sessions The Hope Six Demolition Project 2016)
The Last Living Rose (Let England Shake 2011)