PJ Harvey – Glasgow Royal Concert Hall – 4th September 2011
The occasion of my 40th birthday recently saw a rather nice gift from my younger brother of a ticket to see PJ Harvey, along with paid train travel and hotel for the night; luckily working for myself and no impending deadlines meant there were no issues with getting the necessary Monday off work, so Sunday lunchtime saw us hop on the train with a few beers to kick the trip off.
I can’t say that the venue was one I was familiar with but once the show was underway it made sense why it was chosen. The concert was a seated affair and provided the perfect setting for the slightly theatrical overtones of the performance (it must be said as well that having attended several seated shows in recent years I’m finding it a very pleasant way to enjoy live music – must be an age thing).
There was no support on the bill and so, more or less at the advertised start time, PJ Harvey and band arrived on-stage, which was adorned simply with a black curtain backdrop, the only lighting being minimal stark white. The 3-piece band (drummer Jean-Marc Butty, frequent PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish on guitar/keyboard/backing vocals and Mick Harvey, veteran of The Birthday Party and Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds as well as his own solo ventures, on guitar/bass/keyboards/backing vocals) were constantly illuminated centre stage while Harvey herself stood alone 10 feet or so to stage left, partially or fully illuminated by a spotlight dependent on the dynamic of the music. Dressed from head to toe in a black Victorian-style dress with a black feather head-dress perched on her long black locks, she resembled some sort of Gothic goddess who would have looked perfectly at home in a Dario Argento film. Throughout the show she often regressed into the shadows at the rear of the stage, the lights never following her, which added to the sense of atmosphere.
The set list was largely derived from her most recent album, the war-themed ‘Let England Shake’, with that album’s title track kicking off proceedings. One thing that really struck me throughout the evening was the clarity of the sound, which was stunning; Harvey’s vocal dynamics provided the main focus but the band themselves were brilliant, low-key enough to avoid overwhelming the vocal delivery but tight and focussed in their delivery. Harvey has always been a distinctive and powerful vocal presence but this album has seen something of a change from her normal vocal style, with a much higher pitch being adopted. Her vocals throughout the evening were flawless and she flitted between the differing styles to suit the historical material seamlessly, while her instrument of choice has expanded from the usual guitar to include an autoharp for much of the new material.
A couple of late-set departures from the ‘Let England Shake’ material (that album being played pretty much in it’s entirety as far as I could determine) were provided by renditions of ‘Down By the Water’ and ‘C’Mon Billy’ from mid-90’s high point ‘To Bring You My Love’ and while both were pretty stunning, a relatively minor complaint came via the former’s slightly truncated form. The end of the main set after just over an hour drew a standing ovation from what was a respectful and attentive crowd (none of my usual complaints concerning irritating talking audience members and other such distractions were present; in fact the only annoyance of the night were the 2 girls who decided to dance about in the aisle just down from me, which seemed completely misplaced and a bit attention seeking given the general subdued atmosphere of the event but they were at least not in anyone’s way and I suppose ultimately harmless).
The return of the band to the stage commenced a 3 song encore comprising of ‘The Sky Lit Up’ and ‘Angelene’ from the late 90’s album ‘Is This Desire’. I was never overly fond of that album at the time it was released but after I saw material from it live previously in the early 00’s it took on a new lease of life for me. ‘Silence’ from ‘White Chalk’ provided a subdued and melancholy close to the evening and prompted another standing ovation and while I often find myself becoming bored about an hour into concerts these days, I could quite happily have watched another half hour of music on this occasion.
A fantastic night’s entertainment in a great venue and I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye on listings for it in future.
Words by Godzilla Blues
Pics by Marc Marnie
PJ Harvey Website