PJ Harvey – Logan Campbell Centre January 24, 2017


Like Nick Cave before her, PJ Harvey eschewed an opening act, with her and her very impressive 9-piece band carrying the full load. And the end of the night it was clear…PJ Harvey is one a very few artists will to challenge herself and her audience, in the process making the best music of her career.

From the very beginning, as Harvey and her band marched on stage to the sound of a snare drum, it was clear that this show was going to be something more than a rock concert. Even though there were no sets or costume changes, this felt more like a trip to the theatre than to a concert.

These days Harvey’s albums are based around big ideas, addressing big issues such as war, poverty, housing, greed…and her 2016 album, The Hope Six Demolition Project is no exception.

In anyone else’s hands, songs about urban gentrification with titles like The Ministry Of Social Affairs and The Community Of Hope would send most music fans packing, but as Harvey proved last night, it is possible to make powerful, emotive music that actually addresses subject matter more substantive that the usual silly love songs that so often clog the airwaves.

But she couldn’t have done it alone.

Her band made some of the finest music I have heard at a concert hall since, well, last week’s Nick Cave show.

Speaking of Nick Cave, former Bad Seed Mick Harvey was there playing bass and keyboards. The rest of the band consisted of two drummers, Kenrick Rowe and Jean-Marc Butty, two horn players, Terry Edwards and Enrico Gabrielli and filled out by a bevy of multi-instrumentalists, most of whom switched between guitar and keyboards…James Johnston, Alessando Stefana, Alain Johannes and John Parish.

I know there were many fans who were disappointed that PJ avoided much of her back catalogue to concentrate on songs from her past two or three albums, but for me, the new material was the most satisfying.

Harvey was completely immersed in her performance, making dramatic motions with her arms, dancing around the stage and singing with a power and feeling that sent chills down my spine.

For those who needed a good dose of dirty rock and roll, Harvey and the band served up The Wheel, with a Stooges-like riff played by 5 guitarists, three sax players honking like an X-Ray Spex record and two drummers. Utterly mesmerizing!

I particularly love the way she draws upon older music to make something new and vibrant such as her reference to Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues during The Words That Maketh Murder…”what if I take my problem to the United Nations”, her sample of Muddy Waters’ Mannish Boy at the beginning of The Ministry Of Social Affairs and her use of the old spiritual Wade In The Water during River Anacostia.

There were a few old favourites thrown in…Down By The Water and To Bring You My Love, both re-invigorated by the superb band, were featured at the end of the set, as was a hard rocking 50 Foot Queenie from 1993’s Rid Of Me.

Hearing that song made me realize that this was PJ’s own version of I’m A Man…”I could have ten sons, ten gods, teen queens”, she boasts, “ten foot and rising”.

If there was one musician who stood out, it was sax player Terry Edwards. His sound was anything but soothing. It had a tough edge that brought another level of urgency to the songs. PJ herself played sax throughout the show as well.

This use of sax had me thinking of Bowie…how he used jazz man Donnie McCaslin on Blackstar and his own playing in the 70s. Harvey even hoisted her instrument on her shoulder ala Bowie on Pinups.

I think the comparison with Bowie goes deeper. Both artists were/ are constantly looking forward, pushing boundaries and doing whatever they feel they must as artists despite what their fans might want.

PJ Harvey’s last three albums…The Hope Six Demolition Project, Let England Shake and White Chalk are as inventive, challenging, intelligent and satisfying as any three Bowie albums and this show really proved what a talented and provocative artist PJ Harvey has become.

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by David Watson:

PJ Harvey set list:

  1. Chain Of Keys
  2. The Ministry Of Defence
  3. The Community Of Hope
  4. The Orange Monkey
  5. A Line In The Sand
  6. Let England Shake
  7. The Words That Maketh Murder
  8. The Glorious Land
  9. Written On The Forehead
  10. To Talk To You
  11. Dollar, Dollar
  12. The Devil
  13. The Wheel
  14. The Ministry Of Social Affairs
  15. 50 Foot Queenie
  16. Down By The Water
  17. To Bring You My Love
  18. River Anacostia
  19. Guilty
  20. The Last Living Rose