To bring you the electro-shock blues

Pop; PJ HARVEY COLSTON HALL BRISTOL

PJ AND Bjork, Bjork and PJ. The maverick chanteuse stakes is still a two-horse race. If Bjork's recent gigs left her typecast as Alice In Wonderland, however, Harvey's on-stage persona seems a little more difficult to second-guess. On 1995's To Bring You My Love tour, Polly Jean vamped it up in shocking pink, whilst batting false-eyelashes that your average pantomime dame would have thought garish. Tonight, she went for a slightly scatty, girl-next-door look. As she explained to The Big Issue recently : "It's no longer about performing. It's about being."

Perhaps the reason that PJ is finding it easier to be herself lately is because she has had ample opportunity to be someone else. In a new short film by the actress Sarah Miles, she plays a bunny girl, while in Hal Hartley's The Book Of Life, she plays Mary Magdalene. She has also recently found the time to exhibit her sculpture around the country . It is a busy schedule, but you can be assured that as a result, her day job has not suffered.

Material from the new album, Is This Desire?, formed the backbone of tonight's set. Tracks like "A Perfect Day Elise" and "Electric Light" demonstrated how Harvey's neo-gothic sound has been stripped-down, tastefully abused with electronica, and re-booted. The resulting hybrid might be described as a kind of "electro-shock blues". It's intense, potent and stark.

As with Shirley Manson of Garbage, Harvey's the focal point of a band whose doddery male members are musically indispensable, but less than striking. Visually, she needed no support, though. Her odd, slightly androgynous dance-moves were arresting, and if you were close enough to see those big green eyes and that lop-sided grin, you were soon in her grip. "I'm warning you that I've got a cold and there's no telling when the phlegm will appear," she jested at one point. There was no trace of that bug in her voice, though. "Meet Ze Monsta" found the swamp-thing rasp of her lower range kicking in with it's usual gusto, and on the sinister, almost funereal-sounding "Catherine", her phrasing and intonation were flawless.

Harvey has often been described as a Nick Cave (& The Bad Seeds) wannabe, but though her former beau is still an obvious influence on her lyrical style, she is increasingly proving herself to be her own goth. Tonight, she proved that hers is a world in which Frankenstein's laboratory is one of all mod cons. She and her cohorts are pioneering a sound which is classic yet cliche-free.

James McNair

A version of this review appeared in the later editions of Saturday's paper.

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