Mick Harvey: The Lexington, London – live review

Mick Harvey 

The Lexington, London,

5th May 2013 

In support of his recently released album FOUR (Acts of Love) (which we reviewed here) Mick Harvey’s been over in the UK for a couple of shows, one at I’ll Be Your Mirror and one at The Lexington. Louder Than War’s Ian Johnston caught this, the Lexington show for us.

Founding member of the Bad Seeds Mick Harvey is tired. He is probably suffering from jet lag.  On top of that, Harvey and his glamorous double bassist Rosie Westbrook and guitarist / violinist J.P. Shilo played a show 24 hours ago at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Alexandra Palace.

That gig focussed upon the two classic mid 1990s albums that Mick Harvey produced, arranged, translated, played and sang, featuring the songs of the legendary French songwriter, Serge Gainsbourg – Intoxicated Man (1995) and Pink Elephants (1997). Yet Harvey and his small but highly proficient, expressive band pull out all the stops for a great show in front of a highly appreciative, packed crowd at the Lexington.

Tonight the spotlight is turned upon the four superb Mute solo albums Harvey has created since 2005 – One Man’s Treasure (2005) Two Of Diamonds (2007), Sketches From The Book Of The Dead (2011) and his new LP, Four (Acts of Love), for which this gig is the launch night. Harvey’s move to the centre stage is not unexpected. Concurrent with his invaluable work in Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds until 2008 and the original Crime And The City Solution (Harvey left in the early 90s), Mick Harvey has always made time to forge his own creative path. Harvey played drums, guitar and backing vocals on Conway Savage’s eponymous first EP, then produced and played on two albums by chanteuse Anita Lane, Dirty Sings (1983) and Sex O’clock (2001). Harvey has also received much critical acclaim for his film scores, including two Australian films, Andrew Dominik’s Chopper (2000) and Paul Goldman’s Australian Rules (2002).

A rough, all-encompassing term for the music played tonight – the Harvey solo LP’s, consisting of Harvey original compositions and covers – would be ‘alternative’ Australian country/folk music. The first track played by the trio is the mournful, down and out ballad ‘First St. Blues’ by Lee Hazelwood (from the 1964 album The N.S.V.I.P.’s, covered by Harvey on One Man’s Treasure), which sets the tone for this enthralling show.  With the audience hanging on every word, Harvey, Westbrook and Shilo roll out such numbers as ‘October Boy’ (Harvey’s sketch portrait of his late, great fellow Birthday Party band member, resourceful post punk guitarist Rowland S. Howard), the hard luck story of ‘The Bells Never Rang’, the mysterious ‘The Ballad of Jay Givens’, the narrative of the true meaning of ‘Two Paintings’, the song of the forsaken ‘The Bell Never Rang’ and the rollicking, gallows humour of ‘Famous Last Words’ (all by Harvey from the wonderful Sketches From The Book Of The Dead).

From the forceful new LP Four (Acts of Love), a song cycle in three acts, the band offer exciting interpretations of P.J Harvey’s ‘Glorious’ (though no relation, Mick is a long-term musical collaborator with the West Country award winner P.J), a no-wave jazz take on Exuma’s 1972 number ‘Summertime In New York’, The Saint’s 1977 classic ‘The Story Of Love’ and Harvey’s compositions ‘Praise The Earth (Wheels of Amber and Gold)’, ‘God Made The Hammer’ and the reflective ‘Where There’s Smoke (before and after)’.

Sensitively backed every step of the way by Westbrook and Shilo, with utter conviction Harvey also sings Guy Clarks’ witty ‘Hank Williams Said It Best’ and captures the cosmic wonder of Once Upon A Time’s ‘Planetarium’ (both from One Man’s Treasure).

After an enthusiastic encore, the audience finally let a weary Harvey leaves the stage, with vague promises that he will return to the UK with another Gainsbourg show, “if there is enough interest.”  Make your appreciation known, but Harvey really does not have to rely on the Gainsbourg back catalogue. His growing number of solo works offer more than enough diversion.

All words by Ian Johnston. More work by Ian on Louder Than War can be found here

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