The Tivoli, with its shabby-glam bloodred velvet, arched balconies and ornate mirrors, seemed an absolutely perfect setting for the latest PJ tour. In typical no-nonsense PJ Harvey style, there was no support act.
Chain of Keys was the opener of the set, a nice touch of theatre, with the full band marching out to the sound of the snare and bass drum, PJ in the middle on sax. The low-key but effective entrance set the tone for the remainder of the night. There was no glitter, limited use of lighting, and understated performances. And it was totally compelling. With PJ, less is more.
The elfin songstress held all ears and eyes in thrall throughout with her self-contained act. Backed ably by her nine-piece band, the set was generally speaking heavy on percussion and sax, lighter on guitar. The Ministry of Defence brought drama to the show right off the bat, with its grinding riffs and apocalyptic lyrics, and a wonderfully bizarre (and no doubt painfully difficult) double sax solo by one of the band members at the end. And by double sax, I mean literally, the player had two separate saxophones in his mouth, and played a dissonant, homophonic solo on them, one hand working each. An experience that I didn’t even realise was on my bucket list. Tick!
Inspired by war and poverty, PJ’s ninth studio album The Hope Six Demolition Project doesn’t shy away from dark subject matter and gruelling lyrics. The third song in the set The Words That Maketh Murder may have been from her previous LP Let England Shake, but it certainly continued in the theme of the evening.
I’ve seen and done things I want to forget;
I’ve seen soldiers fall like lumps of meat,
Blown and shot out beyond belief.
Arms and legs were in the trees.
Who’s ready to party, amirite? The set gathered up a kind of rolling momentum as both the crowd and band warmed up to each other. At times the mood grew quiet and introspective; Written on the Forehead gave everyone a little break from the relentlessness and allowed Polly’s voice to float above the heads of the crowd. The Wheel brought everyone back to life. A PJ set is a fascinating thing in that it contains plenty of driving percussion that makes you want to dance, but also a sprinkle of uncomfortable time signatures which make it difficult to do so. Fortunately, in darkness and with limited room to move, you can worry less about looking like a dick.
The crowd thrilled towards the end of the set as she brought out favourites To Bring You My Love and 50ft Queenie. A straightforward introduction of all members constituted the entire amount of speaking done by PJ for the entire night, but it didn’t matter. Her music speaks volumes.
IMAGES (c) Lamp Photography