PJ Harvey Will Play Whatever PJ Harvey Wants To Play and You Will Like It

As a child growing up in the remote seaside town of Bridport in Dorset, England, Polly Jean Harvey kept her hair boy short, fed the family chickens, and played saxophone. Her hair is quite long now, and I have no immediate knowledge of her current relationship to chickens, but I do know that the 47 year old still plays saxophone. And guitar, and autoharp, and piano, and several other instruments I’m not going to list here now. But it was in 2011 that PJ Harvey’s first instrument returned to take its rightful place in her songwriting, and is featured prominently in her Mercury Prize winning album Let England Shake. And though she is known as an artist who is loathe to repeat herself creatively in any way, the sax came back for her most recent release, 2016’s The Hope Six Demolition Project, in a big way.
PJ Harvey on 7/15/17 – By Barry Brecheisen
Though she started out 25 years ago fronting a trio that went by her name, PJ Harvey the person takes now the stage in the company of an eight-piece backing band. This band is made up of impressive, pedigreed musicians in their own right, like former Bad Seed Mick Harvey, and longtime Harvey collaborator John Parish, all of them dressed sharp as a tack. They enter the stage like a marching band, all in a line, the only thing distinguishing their leader in the line is an eccentric fashion flourish, often large black feathers springing from her head, or some sort of elbow length leather opera glove or sky high Ann Demeulemeester boot. The full band, with Harvey often on sax, make their way through songs from those last two albums with a sense of theater and drama, before they hit about two thirds of the way through, and treat the crowd to a song like “The Devil,” or “Dear Darkness” from 2007’s deeply haunting White Chalk.
PJ Harvey on 7/15/17 – By Barry Brecheisen
Harvey doesn’t much perform her older material, of which there is a lot, and all of it coveted and beloved – she put out nine full length albums before Let England Shake, and the cheery drama of its songs, and the melodic meditations on global misfortunes of The Hope Six Demolition Project, are musically pretty far away from the raw, visceral, innuendo-heavy songs of Dry and Rid of Me, or the bluesy, guttural moods of To Bring You My Love, or even the passionate pop of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (the 2000 release that earned Harvey her first Mercury Prize). It’s not that she doesn’t care that you, or at least I, Yasi Salek, would sacrifice a finger (one of the more useless ones, like the pinky, at least) to hear Rid of Me live all the way through, just once (“Legs”! “Hook”! “Man-Size”!!!).
PJ Harvey on 7/15/17 – By Barry Brecheisen
As she told GQ back in 2011, “Well, I find that I can only play the songs that I can sing with any authenticity still, my being a 42-year-old woman. Some of the words of those songs were written when I was very young and they no longer feel honest for me to sing now at this stage of my life. When I sing for people I want to be able to feel that I can inhabit the song during that performance and in order to do so I need to believe in it. So I only sing the songs that I can still believe as I sing them.”
PJ Harvey on 7/15/17 – By Barry Brecheisen
Harvey isn’t entirely withholding, though. At her recent Pitchfork fest performance, and during many of the shows during this current tour, Harvey has fired up the entire band, all eight of them, for some truly powerful renditions of older songs including “50ft Queenie,” off Rid of Me, as well as beautiful yet blistering versions of “Down by the Water” and “To Bring You My Love”, all in a row, before closing out the night with the bright, burnished “River Anacostia,” which, if you were lucky enough to see in DC or New York City this past tour, came along with the full bodied, uplifting vocals of the Anacostia Union Temple Baptist Church. Though in my opinion, anyone who gets to hear PJ Harvey, one of the most fiercely creative artists of our time, sing live, is lucky no matter what she plays.
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Last updated: 20 Mar 2019, 21:24 Etc/UTC