The Mysterious Genius That is PJ Harvey Gives her all at the Greek Theatre
While some artists thrive on selling out arenas, writing Top 10 singles, and ensuring that fans continuously see them in the spotlight, others out there appear to have mastered the craft at creating a cult-like following. Not necessarily known by everyone you cross on the street, yet enough of an audience to easily fall to their knees when new projects are released. A perfect example of this kind of talent is PJ Harvey.
On my ride home this past Friday night from her stunning show at the Greek Theatre, I took the liberty to attempt to play a song or two from each of Polly Jean’s 11 albums to date (starting back with 1992’s introduction with her album Dry, and her latest, The Hope Six Demolition Project). While I did not succeed in hearing a track from that near dozen, I was in awe thinking back to the woman I had just had the pleasure of watching for nearly 90 minutes, and how her craft continues to evolve into new, and, often, greater, things with each album.
Released last year, The Hope Six Demolition Project continues on with Harvey’s trend of late to sing about social issues and politics. While the latter has been more directed at troubles in The UK (2011’s Let England Shake), Hope Six tackles protests and corruption in an elaborate fashion by connecting the dots to the wars in Afghanistan and Kosovo, to the root cause that lays in Washington D.C. with references to poverty-stricken areas of D.C and, as she sings on opening track The Community of Hope, “Here’s the highway to death and destruction/South Capitol is its name/And the school just looks like sh*t-hole/Does that look like a nice place?/Here’s the old mental institution/Now the homeland security base.” She even chants in a near witchery tone at the end of the track, “They’re gonna build a Walmart here.”
Having seen Harvey once many moons ago (my 18th birthday, to be exact), I’ve been an avid fan since her 1995 masterpiece, To Bring you my Love, fell into my hands when I was 15. While past tours have found her incorporating an array of favorites from most of her albums, Hope Six is much more of a concept project, and to properly perform it, I can understand why nine out of its 11 tracks made the set.
In between new favorites like The Wheel and Ministry of Defense, we were treated to brilliant (but limited) numbers from past efforts including To Bring you my Love, Let England Shake, White Chalk, and Rid of Me. Listen closely, and you will notice that this setlist appears to have been expertly crafted to go with the common themes in her work of war and social affairs (maybe with the exception of her manic and playful performance of Rid of Me favorite, 50 Foot Queenie). You could have heard a pin drop during the haunting When Under Ether, while the encore gave us her rousing cover from 1993’s Rid of Me of Bob Dylan’s Highway ’61 Revisited.
With showtime at 8:30, Polly and her band (which, sadly, did not include her long-time collaborator, John Parish, that evening) were fashionably late and graced the Greek stage at 8:50. Usually, one to have the traditional rock band line up of guitar, bass, and drums, the Hope Six tour has Polly bringing a near 10 piece band along for the ride, all of whom worked in the studio with her on the album.
Her band is nothing short of genius. With incredible new takes and solos on trumpets and saxophones for songs like The Wheel and The Ministry of Social Affairs, PJ has never been one to want to be the only star of her productions, often becoming invisible during others’ solo so we have our full attention on them.
Always one to skip the chit-chat and let her music do the talking, she was particularly channeling her theatrical tendencies for this show; staying within her ‘character’, so to speak, only taking a quick break to introduce the band. My friend with me commented she felt like she was watching a Shakespearean play at times.
While PJ Harvey may not be everyone’s cup of tea, you truly cannot deny the talent this artist has. She pours her heart and soul into her work, and you can definitely tell this is a musician who is very much in her element when singing to audiences. While this was the last stop of The Hope Six Demolition Project tour, rest assured that she will return in July with many more tour dates. Learn more HERE. xo
(*Disclosure: No compensation or credentials were provided for this article. I attended this concert on my own and thank my husband for the Christmas gift of the tickets.)