PJ Harvey and John Parish at The Warfield, 6/19/09

by Raffi Youssoufian on June 21, 2009

The spotlight was on PJ for much of the night, as seen in this shot.

The spotlight was on PJ for much of the night, as seen in this shot.

It’s been almost five years since PJ Harvey has graced San Francisco with her electric energy.  Without a tour in the States for her previous release, “White Chalk,” the barest and probably quietest of all her records, she reemerged alongside old writing mate John Parish, with guns blazing and a fire simmering in the belly.

With many fans not arriving on time,  I wished I had done the same.  The opener, Pop Parker, appeared lightly playing a guitar, singing “Mother” repeatedly, as if to start a heartfelt song, but then abruptly ripped the strings yelling “Fuck!”.  Then he jumped into a series of sarcastic stories of misconstrued love and times good and bad.  He had a sweet sounding voice, obvious skill as a songwriter, and clear talent as a guitarist, but the lyrics tried too hard to be comedic, maybe conveniently putting the “pop” in Parker.

Having seen PJ Harvey at the Warfield on previous tours dating back to 1998, the huge ovation given for her entrance was not a surprise.  For the new record, A Woman a Man Walked By, PJ has deferred a lot of the questions about the music to John Parish, giving precedence to the work as a pure collaboration.  This showed as PJ seemed much more free on stage to experiment with emotion than I’ve ever seen.  Her range of voice was on display from the yelp to the sultry to the quick, very uncomforting, almost talking to herself, type of chattering.  There were a series of unadulterated moments during the show, like standing barefoot in her black dress, grasping the mic, and staring out at something, frozen, almost looking like a lost child, that made you wonder if the scope of the human psyche this music visited, from the good to the more unappealing sides, might have allowed her to rediscover her more childlike side.  She danced, played, and crawled while her voice soared, demanding “Jesus save me,” as they pulled out the classic “Taut” from their first collaborative effort.  When it was time for rage, she had no problem letting it all out in songs like the new album’s title track, climaxing to “Stick it up your ass!” to a mass of cheers.

As a whole the show was a professional work of art, visually streamlined with not much to take your eyes off PJ.  The band, almost a silhouette, all in black with hats, seemed to jump out of a movie during the stark “Leaving California,” where the backdrop was covered in a hazy orange sunset glow.  But as much as the music was a collaborative effort on record, live, there is no denying PJ Harvey’s power to take over the spotlight with her voice.  When someone sings with exceeding amounts of passion and pain, you can’t help but feel every bit of the emotion she does.  That interactive experience is probably one of the reasons why she received one of the biggest standing ovations I have ever seen at a concert.  I was one of those fans, and why I will always keep coming back.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

GeezrRckr June 23, 2009 at 9:17 am

Good review, less the psychobabble part (why do reviewers feel the need to go Freud on us all the time…totally superfluous and pretentious too).

It was a great show and I hope someone will put up the setlist somewhere.

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Chantelle July 14, 2009 at 2:15 am

Oh man, I wish I didn’t miss that show. Did she play “C’mon Billy”?
Fantastic review, very well done…

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