Friday, 20 January 2012

Let Melbourne Shake

PJ Harvey (15/01/2012)
Live at the Regent Theatre, Melbourne.
Review by Jo Michelmore

I’ve got a secret. It’s scary and sexy and quiet and soft and loud and brash and most of all, most of all of this, it is beautiful. It’s about PJ Harvey. She’s amazing. Extraordinary. Incredible. Graceful. Breathtaking.

Sunday night, inside a stunning theatre in Melbourne, floor to ceiling dripping with history and beauty, I witnessed something special. Seated in velvet seats, the opulence surrounding was fabulous, but couldn’t compete with the performance I was about to witness.

The stage in this magnificent theatre was very simple. A black curtained backdrop, a group of instruments and three lights to the right of stage with a single microphone stand on the left. The house lights dimmed and three figures appeared in the shadows on the right of the unadorned stage. Another figure emerged from the dark and there, on one side of the stage, was Polly Jean Harvey, dressed in beautiful, long flowing black clothes, a black leather corset and black feathers pouring from the back of her head, like the plumes from a funeral horse. She was a picture of Victorian era beauty. The shock of her beautiful appearance was enhanced when she began to play the autoharp she was clutching like a security blanket and her voice rang out “…the west’s asleep, let England shake”. A wave of goose bumps enveloped my entire self and the feeling only continued as she launched into my favourite song from her latest album; “The Words That Maketh Murder”. Only the second song and at that point I knew this was an evening I would not forget. At this point, my attention was bought to the rich harmonies being provided by her band, with the somewhat sinister chant of “these, these, these are the words” ringing across the theatre, it was spooky and delicious. The songs from the current album kept flowing, one after the other; her band, John Parish, Mick Harvey and Jean Marc Butty, dressed in vests and boots, as if from early last century, played almost perfectly, forming a superb companion to PJ’s amazingly strong vocals.

She continued through almost every song from ‘Let England Shake’, each one hauntingly serene, an aching and almost celestial performance of every song. Her songs seemed short and succinct and I hungered for each one to never end, the hallucinating feeling of each took me to places far away from my stunning surrounds. That is an indication of not only how strong PJ’s song writing ability is, but also her talent to take those songs to a live setting and make them as perfectly heart wrenching in the flesh as their subject matters are. After a few songs she gently put down her autoharp and swapped it for her guitar, the rocking, rigid, sexy PJ just as amazing as her current forlorn self. Long-time fans not disappointed, with carefully chosen songs from her back catalogue fitting in with the solemn mood; ‘Down By The Water’ and ‘C’mon Billy’ pleasing the audience the most. The audience treated this performance as it should be, with a reverence for an artist who has worked hard, paid her dues and deserves to be listened to, watched and admired. The response between songs was loud and appreciative and although she didn’t speak throughout the entire set, except to say “Thank You” at the end of the performance and to briefly introduce her band during the encore, for me, this was not disappointing. Her performance alone was enough, with every song she seemed to share so much of herself, her spoken word would only have shocked me back into the sad reality that at some time the performance would end and I’d be thrust back onto the streets of the big city. After nineteen songs I felt spoilt, wondering could it be possible that an artist who didn’t require a support act would not need to perform an encore either? The audience gave a standing ovation and waited, patiently, hoping she would appear again. She didn’t need an encore, but came back for three more songs, finishing with the beautiful ‘Angelene’ and ‘Silence’, and then, PJ and band left the stage quietly; just a second “Thank You” and they were gone.

So, I’ve got this secret. It’s about my love of PJ Harvey. I knew I liked her before Sunday and I didn’t think it was actually possible but after seeing her live, I think I may have an addiction that won’t be satisfied until I see her again. I think I love her more now than ever before.

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