Almost twenty years since she burst onto the scene with the raw energy of Dry, PJ Harvey has arguably made her masterpiece. Let England Shake is at times both beautiful and disturbing, something which could also be said of Harvey tonight, as she walks on stage seemingly dressed for her own funeral.
An opening double-salvo of ‘Let England Shake’ and ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ has the already excitable audience in raptures. Patti Smith recently claimed that ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ is a song which makes her “happy to be alive”; the same could probably be said for everyone inside the sold-out Troxy tonight, judging by their reaction.
Things get really interesting soon after, as Harvey and her band unveil recent b-side ‘The Big Guns Called Me Back Again’. Quite why it was left off the new album will forever remain a mystery – its relentless, chugging hook is greeted with wild cheers from the audience, even though it is totally new to the large majority.
It’s clear from the outset that this is not an evening for the casual fan. If PJ Harvey had hits, you get the impression she would be reluctant to play them anyway. When she does delve into her back catalogue, it’s not the aggressive songs of her early days, but the delicate and sinister ‘The Devil’ and ‘The River’, which both sound extraordinary tonight alongside the new songs.
Throughout tonight’s set, PJ Harvey establishes herself as a compelling and fascinating performer. Although she remains detached from the audience, stood to the side of the stage and not uttering a single word, her natural charisma and eerie stage demeanour is mesmerising – never before has someone done so much with so little. Although at times she appears delighted to be on stage, there are moments where she looks absolutely frightening underneath the white light.
The evening takes a turn for the sublime late on into the set, as ‘Down By The Water’ sounds disturbing and thrilling in equal measure. ‘On Battleship Hill’, sees Harvey showcase her stunning vocal range, recalling Kate Bush at her finest. As if that wasn’t enough, a tantalising, stripped back version of ‘Big Exit’ proves to be the evening’s sing-a-long, with Harvey beaming back at the enthusiastic crowd.
A brutal version of ‘Meet Ze Monsta’ opens the encore, which is packed with more vibrancy and energy than artists half Harvey’s age could only ever dream of possessing. With a backing band including former Bad Seed Mick Harvey and her musical soulmate, John Parish, it’s quite clear that whilst Harvey is rightly receiving the plaudits for her lyrics, she has also upped her game musically.
Leaving the stage following a hushed rendition of ‘Silence’, Harvey and her band appear truly humbled by the warmth directed towards to them. Once again, PJ Harvey has proven herself to tower head and shoulders above her peers. Whether on stage or on record, others will always follow where she leads the way.
From Craig Jones.