PJ Harvey, Somerset House, London

Flailing, falling, and finally brimming with joie de vivre
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The Independent Culture

Passionate, provocative, uncompromising and wilfully unpredictable - it's little wonder P J Harvey strikes fear into her fans. In the dark days of the mid-Nineties, she cut a ghostly figure, apparently so racked with pain you feared for her sanity in the ruthlessly fickle world of pop.

Passionate, provocative, uncompromising and wilfully unpredictable - it's little wonder P J Harvey strikes fear into her fans. In the dark days of the mid-Nineties, she cut a ghostly figure, apparently so racked with pain you feared for her sanity in the ruthlessly fickle world of pop.

Nowadays she's so full of confidence and joie de vivre that she clearly has trouble keeping it in check. Only three songs in, during the typically confrontational "Who The Fuck?", a song about a disastrous visit to the hairdresser, the once bashful Polly dances with such thrilled abandon that she trips backwards and falls on her backside. Less than a second later, however, she's back on her feet, swiping the dust off her skirt and carrying on like nothing happened.

Yes, it's a happier Polly before us, giggling and cavorting around the stage in a ludicrously sexy mini-skirt and black top. Tonight the cries of "We love you Polly" are almost as fevered as the cries of "turn it up" (the Somerset House setting may be magnificent but the acoustics really aren't up to much).

Harvey's body language suggests a woman finally at ease with herself and those who so fiercely idolise her. Now the frailty that characterised Harvey's early years are but a distant memory; in her thirties, she seems firmly in the driving seat of her career. As tonight's show attests, over a decade into her career she is on unbeatably fine form.

Much of the set draws on Uh Huh Her, her sixth full-length album. Eschewing the glossy production of its Mercury prize-winning predecessor, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, Uh Huh Her echoes the pleasingly bloody-mindedness of earlier records such as Rid Of Me and To Bring You My Love. Long-standing fans had complained that with Stories From The City, Harvey had become too slick, but last night songs such as "Shame" and "Pocket Knife" take us back to the old Polly where blues collided violently with minimalist punk.

Harvey is a magnificent presence, like Patti Smith at her feral best. When she dances, her arms flail about her head and her knees buckle as if crushed by the ferocity of her words. When she's standing still, guitar in hand, or calmly shaking a pair of maracas, she brims with theatrical menace. Singers of true talent and originality are hard to find these days. Polly, however, is one of a kind.

Fiona Sturges

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