Polly Jean ditches the nos­tal­gia for a po­lit­i­cally charged New York set.

Q (UK) - - Contents - GEORGINA NEW­MAN

While many of her ’ 90s peers are rid­ing the wave of nos­tal­gia re­vis­it­ing their break­through al­bums, Polly Jean Har­vey has been march­ing for­ward as de­ter­minedly as ever. Tonight, she’s on­stage in a mid-sized Brook­lyn venue, wear­ing what looks like a dead crow on her head, wield­ing a sax­o­phone like a cer­e­mo­nial totem, and per­form­ing a set of un­for­giv­ing songs in­spired by vis­its to war-torn Afghanistan, Kosovo and in­ner-city Wash­ing­ton, DC. It’s def­i­nitely not a move de­signed to reignite past glo­ries. But Brid­port’s most fa­mous daugh­ter has lit­tle in­ter­est in the dream of the ’ 90s, pre­fer­ring in­stead to re­main wholly in­side the night­mare of to­day. Last year’s The Hope De­mo­li­tion Project al­bum saw her play­ing a jour­nal­ist of sorts, doc­u­ment­ing her trav­els and earn­ing ac­cu­sa­tions of poverty tourism to boot. A for­mer mayor of Wash­ing­ton, DC crit­i­cised Har­vey pub­licly for her un­yield­ingly grim por­trayal of parts of the city in the lead sin­gle The Com­mu­nity Of Hope, while his cam­paign trea­surer ac­cused her of be­ing “to mu­sic what Piers Mor­gan is to ca­ble news.” But in­side this new Wil­liams­burg venue, Har­vey dou­bles down on her lat­est al­bum, per­form­ing 10 of the 11

tracks and barely ut­ter­ing a word to the sold-out crowd. Dis­patched early in the set, The Com­mu­nity Of Hope is one of the songs that speaks loud­est. It is a much-needed re­minder of the harsh so­cial re­al­i­ties and ig­nored ur­ban blight (lo­cated just a few miles away) that helped give the cur­rent US Trump-led ad­min­is­tra­tion a route to power. With the mad­den­ingly catchy re­frain, “They’re gonna put a Walmart here,” Har­vey has cre­ated the most un­likely pop hook of her ca­reer. In Amer­ica, Har­vey’s old­est fans have fond mem­o­ries of her as part of the PJ Har­vey trio (fea­tur­ing drum­mer Rob El­lis and bassist Steve Vaughan), who en­thralled on their tour in sup­port of Rid Of Me in 1993, even though they were barely on speak­ing terms and sub­se­quently split, leav­ing Har­vey to be­come a fully-fledged solo act. Nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury later, she’s back with the PJ Har­vey dectet, fea­tur­ing (among oth­ers) for­mer Bad Seeds Mick Har­vey and James John­ston, and oc­ca­sional QOTSA gui­tarist Alain Jo­hannes. Har­vey fre­quently sinks back from front of stage, to add blasts of sax­o­phone, and to en­sure her own star power doesn’t com­pletely eclipse the ca­coph­ony. To­gether, the group pro­vide an im­pres­sive range of tex­tures and moods. It’s an ex­pertly mea­sured back­ing that runs from the jud­der­ing The Min­istry Of De­fence or the in­tense, White Light/White Heat-era Vel­vet Un­der­ground squall of noise that is The Wheel, to the pi­ano-led chills of To Talk To You (a throw­back to 2007’ s White Chalk). It’s dur­ing these more sub­dued mo­ments that Har­vey is also able to show her own vo­cal power. The gut­tural growl thrills of her early work are few, but Har­vey is stretch­ing her falsetto in more en­tranc­ing ways than ever. The state­ments of artis­tic rein­ven­tion are made clear, but even some­one as fear­less and pro­gres­sive as Har­vey can’t es­cape her his­tory. The open­ing notes of 50ft Quee­nie re­lieve a brew­ing im­pa­tience in the room. A note-per­fect re­cre­ation of Down By The Wa­ter (still her big­gest US hit) add some­thing close to cel­e­bra­tory feel, but Har­vey is de­ter­mined to end the night on her terms, and does so with a stir­ring ver­sion of River Ana­cos­tia. The song evokes the heav­ily pol­luted body of wa­ter close to Wash­ing­ton, DC, and for added good­time vibes, weaves in lines from the slave spir­i­tual Wade In The Wa­ter. Her fans may feel slighted at this (al­most) hit-free set, but few peo­ple be­came PJ Har­vey fans be­cause she was of­fer­ing an easy ride. After 25 years, she re­mains on her own per­sonal de­mo­li­tion project, and it’s up to us to sift through the grim but fas­ci­nat­ing rub­ble.


Windy city: PJ Har­vey and band have a blowout in NYC; (be­low right) meet the Har­veys, Polly and bassist Mick; (be­low left) PJ Har­vey, “fear­less and pro­gres­sive.”

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