First Night: PJ Harvey, Corn Exchange, Brighton
Through the darkness, Polly plays it for laughs
Thursday 16 April 2009
PJ Harvey has never been one to pointlessly bask in the limelight.
Judging by her interviews – and she doesn’t give many – she’d rather be sitting in her local in Dorset discussing the finer points of jam-making than giving it the big rock-star ‘I Am’. And so it is that she has given her friend and long-term collaborator John Parish joint billing for this latest tour in support their album A Woman A Man Walked By.
It’s rather touching that Parish has donned a bright red shirt lest we fail to pick him out of a band dressed in matching suits and trilbys. Parish may not be a star of Harvey’s stature, but he is certainly revered in musicians’ circles, a skilled multi-instrumentalist who has produced haunting arrangements for the likes of Goldfrapp, Eels, Sparklehorse and, of course, Harvey herself.
Their album is a follow-up of sorts to their 1996 joint effort Dance Hall at Louse Point. Neither LPs make for easy listening and yet – bravely and, some might say, dangerously – they have elected to play songs almost exclusively from them tonight. The opener “Black Hearted Love” (“When you call out my name in rapture/ I volunteer my soul for murder”) with its robust guitar-rock is about as accessible as it gets.
It could sit happily amid Harvey’s upbeat and comparatively commercial Mercury Prize-winning album Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea. By contrast, “Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen”, a spooky affair about playing hide-and-seek, opens with atmospheric banjo strums before building in hypnotic intensity with the addition of bass and drums. Later “The Soldier”, set against a simple arrangement of mouth organ and mandolin, proves an affecting tale in which Harvey sees herself as a warrior who walks “on the faces of dead women.”
There’s no disputing Parish’s contribution in all this – he does the music, she does the words. But even with the lurid attire he is content to let Harvey take centre-stage and act as enabler for her dark musings. It’s been said before but Harvey’s most obvious antecedent – in sound, intelligence and sheer force of personality – is the punk-poet Patti Smith. And as with Smith, there are moments during her perfomance when things go a little bit bananas.
It starts this evening when Harvey adopts a girlish whine for “Leaving California”, and then moves into booming actorly mode for “A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go” in which she berates some poor sap for his “lily-livered balls”, and stalks around the stage thumping her fists like the hammiest of Hamlets.
The song ends with her yelling at the man in question to stick it up, well, you get the picture. This is Harvey at her most challenging, though in this instance you suspect she’s challenging us to unclench our buttocks and not take her so damned seriously.
game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers
North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama
Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Oxygen-starved 'dead zones' with no marine life up to 100-miles long discovered in the Atlantic Ocean
- 2 The man who filmed the Freddie Gray video has been arrested at gunpoint
- 3 Indonesia executions: Death row British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford will refuse to wear a blindfold when she faces firing squad
- 4 How the language you speak changes your view of the world
- 5 Tory activist asked to step down after Labour candidate Rupa Huq is 'manhandled' while questioning Boris Johnson on the campaign trail
The C-Word - review: Sheridan Smith shines in a warm, honest adaptation of Lisa Lynch's book about living with cancer
X-Men Apocalypse: First look at Jubilee and Jean Grey played by Game of Thrones star Sophie Turner
American Horror Story: Hotel Angela Bassett set to make 'lots of trouble' with Lady Gaga in season 5
Game of Thrones season 5 episode 4 - review: Sansa is in danger of becoming another footnote in Westeros' bloody history
Adam Sandler's The Ridiculous Six: Make-up 'used to darken skin of actors to make them look Native American'
Over 50,000 families shipped out of London boroughs in the past three years due to welfare cuts and soaring rents
EU asylum policy is 'a direct threat to our civilisation', says Nigel Farage
The Rothschild Libel: Why has it taken 200 years for an anti-Semitic slur that emerged from the Battle of Waterloo to be dismissed?
General Election 2015: SNP and its activists 'openly racist' towards the English, Farage says
General Election 2015: UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power, Labour warns
Schools forced to act as 'miniature welfare states' with teachers buying underwear and even haircuts for poor pupils