The last time PJ Harvey was in SoCal, she played a positively electrifying set at the Empire Polo Fields for Coachella 2011, or so I have read. I myself had made the difficult decision to skip her set so I could scope out prime real estate for one of my absolute favorite bands, The Presets. Had I known it would be another five years before she would grace Angelenos with her presence again, I might have reevaluated that decision. Hindsight, you’re such a bitch.
So to exactly nobody’s surprise, I jumped on the opportunity to see PJ Harvey’s sold-out show at The Shrine. I consider myself lucky to have been given the chance, too, since her stateside tour consisted solely of two shows a piece for both New York and LA.
It’s generally hard to squeeze artists into neatly separated genre cubbies because genre blending is so commonplace now, but with respect to PJ Harvey, it’s even more difficult because her musical style is just so damn varied. She’s a consummate artist who strives to take her music in a new direction with each release she puts out, and she has done so successfully over the course of nine albums.
Harvey’s commitment to mutability is also reflected in the ever-evolving on-stage personas she adopts at her shows. She’s been anything from the green-eyeshadowed alt-rocker in a wifebeater to the babydoll dress-clad waif with perfectly coiffed hair.
This time she took a page from the effortlessly chic badass playbook and emerged on stage with an army of a band and a thigh-slit little black dress that I desperately want to add to my own wardrobe.
Fluffy details aside, PJ Harvey is an absolute force to be reckoned with on stage. Anyone who’s familiar with her discography knows that she’s an incredible lyricist who’s not at all afraid of tacking weighty subject matter, but those lyrics take on a certain smoldering intensity when you see and hear her growling the verses of “Down By The Water” live.
Loaded with tongue-in-cheek manhood metaphors, feminist anthem “50 Ft Queenie” is sung with a coy smile and a macho strut. It’s the perfect vehicle for Harvey to showcase her more playful side.
Offerings from her latest release, The Hope Six Demolition Project, fit right in with her already-expansive catalog, the standout being “The Wheel,” whose radio-friendly sound serves as a marked contrast to the starkly somber subject it tackles. If there’s one person who can make a scathing indictment on Western media coverage on the Middle East wonderfully listenable, it’s PJ Harvey.
Given the show I was treated to, it’s no surprise that PJ Harvey has remained musically relevant over the course of her almost-three-decades-long career. There’s no telling when she’ll be back again, but I can safely say there’s a good chance I’ll be there. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take another five years.
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