May 19, 2017 PJ Harvey Shines Bright At The Greek Theatre Los Angeles, CA 5-12-17
She is a ten-force hurricane, a 50-foot queenie, a Sheela Na Gig. The voodoo of PJ Harvey has worked on the crowd from the very start of her career in 1988 and has earned her countless accolades, not to mention a spot in the World Guinness Book of Records, as the only artist to be awarded the Mercury Prize twice (one in 2001 and one in 2011). It had been nearly a decade since American fans have had the opportunity to get hypnotized by the goddess herself, and at last, North America was gifted by the grace and presence of the iconic Polly Jean Harvey for her latest and greatest punch, her ninth studio album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, released April 15th, 2016.
A powerful album which made the best of 2016 on various lists, The Hope Six Demolition Project was also nominated at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards, for Best Alternative Music Album, PJ Harvey’s fourth overall nomination. Touring around in its support, in 2017, Harvey picks up where she left off in 2016 with a North American Tour accompanied by a 10-piece band including long-time collaborators Mick Harvey, John Parish, and Jean Marc Butty, along with Alain Johannes, Terry Edwards, James Johnston, Kenrick Rowe, Alessandro Stefana, as well as Enrico Gabrielli. Her lengthiest headlining tour in North America in over a decade, the spring run began to wind down on Friday, May 12th, out in Los Angeles, California.
It was a beautiful, breezy night in the City of Angels at The Greek Theatre, a mid-sized outdoor venue modeled after a Greek Temple and equipped to fit about 6,000 people. A lovely setting, fans patiently awaited the British-born musician and writer to take the stage. Finally, the band came marching in, literally. In a line, the band made its way through the stage with a heavy and dreary bass sound and the recognizable saxophone ever present in The Hope Six Demolition Project album. Right in the middle stood Harvey in her navy blue cloak, massive black gloves, and her mohawk of black feathers belting out the song to kick off the show “Chain of Keys.”
In fact, the first four songs were all from her politically-charged album The Hope Six Demolition Project, a title that is a reference to the HOPE VI projects in the United States, “where run-down public housing in areas with high crime rates has been demolished to make room for better housing, but with the effect that many previous residents could no longer afford to live there, leading to claims of social cleansing.”
Harvey and the band also played “The Ministry Defense,” “The Community of Hope,” and “A Line of Sand” until they switched to songs from one of her most celebrated albums, 2011’s Let England Shake, starting off with none other than the song “Let England Shake” and perhaps some of the best songs from the album such as “The Words that Maketh Murder” and the shoegazey and soft “The Glorious Land.” At this point, the lights were dimmed with nothing but the band lit up forming shadows against the background giving the stage an even eerier tone to music that sheds light to the disastrous effects of war.
As the night continued, the energy in the room magnified as Harvey tackled older tunes from 2007’s White Chalk. In a gentle, chilling stroke, out came the words of the very dark and poetic “When Under Ether,” which covers a heavy matter that is abortion. Shortly after, a recognizable piano melody is pressed with the ever stirring lyrics “As soon as I am left alone, the devil wanders into my soul” from the gut-wrenching song “The Devil.” Throughout the song, PJ Harvey’s voice was high-pitched and soothing, but somehow towards the end, her tone went deep and low as she sang the evocative last lines “What finally cheered me now seems insignificant.” Surprisingly, there were no tears in the room, but the crowd was certainly transfixed in the hypnotic performance.
Later on, the song selection returned to more offerings from The Hope Six Demolition Project, which included the instrumentally powerful and dirty Rock-n-Roll “The Wheel.” Hearing this song live was rowdier than it sounds on the radio. The horns were sweaty and bluesy and they honked even louder in the flesh; not to mention the theatrical hand gestures made for a stronger and more dramatic stage presence.
Bringing even more energy, Harvey graced fans with a throwback of songs that have earned her the crown like “50 ft Queenie” from 1993’s unforgettable album Rid of Me. From here, the lights dimmed to blue while the Punk-infused track shook the entire audience before older favorites “To Bring You My Love” and “Down by the Water” from her 1995 record To Bring You My Love shined bright. Of course, like all shows, there was the pretend goodbye, but then Harvey and her band returned to play the rhythmic Bob Dylan cover “Highway 61 Revisited,” featured on Rid of Me, before wrapping up with 2011’s Let England Shake track “The Last Living Rose.”
The well-tailored grace PJ Harvey demonstrated on the stage made for a mesmerizing show. The variety of guitar, autoharp, piano, and saxophone kept the show fruitful and rich. From the cinematic hand and body movements to her elaborate costume, PJ Harvey is one those rare artists that is fully absorbed in her art and is absolutely majestic. Hopefully fans will not have to wait another decade to have her back on North American grounds, but if the wait is necessary then it will certainly be well worth it.
Photo credit: Karina Diane Photography