PJ Harvey and John Parish Fleece and Firkin, Bristol

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The Independent Culture
Polly Harvey is now at the point where she does, more or less, what she wants, and thus the Yeovil queen chose to perform Dance Hall at Louse Point, her collaboration with guitarist and art-provocateur John Parish, over four nights in a barn-like Bristol bar. Expectations had not been high. Dance Hall is a tough listen, even for acolytes. Parish's spare instrumentals don't seem that different from PJ's own tortured meanderings, while Harvey's lyrics recall the self-abasement of Rid of Me rather than last year's coolly seductive To Bring You My Love. Expectations, however, were confounded.

Surrounded by what looked like a band of eclectic undertakers, Harvey was a relaxed supper-club chanteuse in a short cream shift. She's back on guitar, and the evening kicked in with an echoing take on Eno's "Here Come The Warm Jets". Poll closed black-shadowed eyes and opened a mouth like a Eurostar tunnel, and a chap beside me almost swooned. "Ah, she looks fantastic," he grimaced. "She's the greatest gay icon there can be." If the woman was any sort of icon tonight, it's because she seemed in control of, not driven by, her demons. Everything was slower, calmer and more resonant than the CD, almost post-coital, and as Harvey came forth to lay a husky, measured story-song against slow, crawling bass, she appeared to be doing something truly disturbing - not just smiling, but enjoying herself. "Civil War Correspondent" was a hypnotic shimmer of fuzz guitar, and electrical problems only served as a guitar-gunfire coda. "Taut", a tale of obsessive teenage love involving the evil Billy was a Cramps-y vamp-up. The album's title track was a goth-folk knees- up, a bone-shaking rave in a graveyard. But the high spot was a Brechtian rendition of Lieber & Stoller's "Is That All There Is?" "I know what you must be saying to yourselves... if that's the way she feels about it, why doesn't she just end it all?" Nah, not just now. Because little Polly, apparently, is happy at last.