PJ Harvey – live review from Primavera

PJ Harvey
Primavera
May 2011

Polly Harvey took to the stage both diminutive and commanding. It is this continuing dichotomy that makes her music so compelling, her persona, like her music, is simultaneously bold and fragile. Dressed in a sculpted flowing white gown and a feather head-dress she looked part jilted bride part ethereal shaman.

With autoharp slung over her shoulder the band started with ‘Let England Shake’ the title track from her new album. This opening would set the tone for the entire gig. This was going to be on Polly’s terms. There would be no room for her earlier guttural blues or harpie wailing. Fans waiting to hear ”˜Rid of Me’ or ”˜Dress’ would be left hanging but not disappointed. She was here to present her new material and would choose to play a B side from her recent single over old classics. With each new album PJ has reinvented her sound, but never herself, confessing she has no desire to retread old ground. ‘Let England Shake’ is no exception.

Polly has described it as a war concept album – under normal circumstances the term concept album conjures images of self indulgent pretension, but Polly has somehow made the concept album cool again. The songs feel colonial and even patriotic, the military themes running throughout the album are borne out when the drummer leaves his kit behind to take centre stage and strap on a marching drum. Contrary to expectations, these new songs sound wonderful live. The intricate musicality is both intimate and rousing. The older songs she does play are brought into this new soundscape, ”˜Come on Billy’ sounds like it would have been completely at home on the new album. Longtime collaborators John Parish and Mick Harvey hold multiple instrumental duties as well as singing. This feels like a cohesive unit not a backing band. Polly plays a long set, but as quickly as it began she thanks the crowd in Spanish and leaves the stage, the crowd know there will be no encore, Polly is in charge of the proceedings and she will decide when it finishes. We are left moved and wanting more, even more in love with Polly than we were a few hours previously.

Set List
Let England Shake
The Words That Maketh Murder
Come on Billy
The Glorious Land
The Devil
The Last Living Rose
Down By The Water
All And Everyone
The Guns Called Me Back Again
The Piano
The Colour Of The Earth
Written On The Forehead
In The Dark Places
The Sky Lit Up
Angelene
Pocket Knife
Bitter Branches
Battleship Hill
Big Exit
Meet ze monsta

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