PJ Harvey is simply an artist. It just so happens her medium is music. Every tour for each new record is an engrossing sensory experience, completely different than the last. Having seen her perform at the Warfield for every record, minus White Chalk, (she left SF off the tiny tour), since 1998, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to experience more than my share.
All of the shows up until now, have been full of the energy, gusto, and a hauntingly excitable sound that had left fans floored. Every show ends with just about the biggest display of genuine applause I’ve ever seen or been apart of for an artist. PJ Harvey fans seem to connect with the music fully in both a primal, intellectual, and emotional level, which doesn’t always happen with most artists.
But even even before she graced the stage, things looks much different for this tour. It was clustered on right with all of the instruments, while the left was empty with a microphone and a small table. The instruments soon to be played, by long time collaborators John Parish keys/synth/guitar, Mick Harvey keys and guitar, were arranged almost like a small living room. After waiting through no opening band, PJ finally appeared in a shimmering simple white dress, big black boots, and a large black feathered headdress. Without a word, and with an auto harp in place of a guitar she started into the title track from her newest album, Let England Shake.
With the whole left side of the stage barren and black, the dichotomy of PJ, almost angel-like, in white, stroking a harp, while the band jam out in the living room was a bit bizarre. She almost held the instrument like a baby, cradling it against her chest tenderly. The newer material, like PJ herself, on stage this night, is a bit more subdued compared to other previous albums, again minus White Chalk.
Seeming a bit more introspective than usual, the separation on stage added to her reserved manner. While she seemed alone with the music, the band, fully lit on stage, bounced energetically while playing. Adding a mix of background vocals, while giving each other small smiles and nods. They strangely balanced the show.
PJ seemed content to stay delved inside of herself. Even during some of the more rhythmic songs like “The Glorious Land”, she really made no effort to move around too much. In past shows, she’s known to dance a bit with a bit of bounce in her step while projecting all of her energy and fury into the audience.
The crowd though didn’t seem to mind any of this. They were loving every bit of it from the start. After a good amount of new material, when she suddenly started “The Sky Lit Up” from Is This Desire, the place erupted. Considering the smaller nature of the band and instrumentation, this song as well as the other old favorites, sounded fairly full. The best of the new songs was the rendition of “In the Dark Places” which in comparison to the version on the record, was filled with reverb, much more powerful strumming, and a quicker tempo.
Other old favorites, she played during the set were “Pocket Knife” from Uh-huh Her, and both “Down by the Water” and “C’Mon Billy” from To Bring you My Love.
After a huge ovation, the lights came on, but nobody would leave. Cheering and stomping for a good five minutes, PJ came back out, and finally said something to the crowd, which she hadn’t done all night. After an appreciative simple thank you and head bow, she ripped right into “Big Exit” to a storm of cheers. Followed by “Angelene” and “Silence”, the three older songs livened up the crowd even more.
In all this concert felt more like an artist performance piece than any other PJ show I’ve seen. Themes may not have been overt, but were ever present. Even at the end, all four came together, stood, bowing, and thanking the crowd in front of one of the warmest and most geniune shows of applause I ever get to see and experience at a concert. Sometimes the art of a show is lost in a concert, but PJ Harvey as a consummate artist keeps true to her nature, and we all benefit for it. While not as memorable, or emotionally exhausting as previous shows may have been, this show easily held it’s own as one of the best shows I’ve seen in a long time.
1. Let England Shake
2.The Words That Maketh Murder
3. All & Everyone
4. The Guns Called Me…
5. Written On The Forehead
6. In The Dark Place
7. The Devil
8. Sky Lit Up
9. The Glorious Land
10. The Last Living Rose
12. The Pocket Knife
13. Bitter Branches
14. Down By The Water
15. C’Mon Billy
16. Hanging In the Wire
17. On Battleship Hill
18. The Colour OF The Earth
1. Big Exit
Photos by Tiffany Black Darquea