PJ Harvey Brings the Stage to Life

PJ guitarWith exposed wooden floor, subtle lighting and patiently waiting instruments, the stage was quiet and still, like a stagnant body of water which lies absent of life and devoid of life-giving oxygen. And then a whisper of air builds and quickly rises into a breeze which flows across the surface of water, stirring it into action and unleashing a chaotic clashing of waves which travel from one side to the other. In such a way the stage wakes to life in hushed reverie as PJ Harvey enters the concert hall. Suddenly the heart and soul of the stage unites in perfect harmony with her presence. The performer has arrived.

She does not rush, she is calm and at peace as she wafts across the stage in a lyrically inscribed Edwardian dress. Similar though to our surface agitated body of water which stretches away to unknown depths, there is a slight feeling of tension below the surface which takes several songs to dissipate as Harvey relaxes into the performance.

Harvey is a surprisingly energetic and warm performer, and while she stands alone on stage she does not feel lonely. Surrounded by an array of instruments (piano, acoustic and bass guitar, zither, keyboards, harmonica and percussion), a sprinkling of fairy lights and tiny animal figurines she casts a spell of ethereal beauty and dreamy creative energy, yet at the same time exudes a commanding strength of spirit. Her only other occasional stage companion throughout the evening was long time collaborator Mick Harvey who accompanied her on piano.

While the purpose of her visit to Australia was to showcase work from her latest album ‘White Chalk’, Harvey would not have disappointed long term fans as she drew widely from her extensive back catalogue of music. Highlights from Harvey’s early nineties albums included emotionally raw and passionate performances of Rid of Me, Bring You My Love, Down By the Water and Send His Love to Me. Her intense stage demeanour is absorbing as she brings poetic drama to her musical stories infused with anger, love, loss and desperate longing.

It is no surprise though that some of the best songs of the evening featured from one of my all time favourite albums, the 2000 release ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’. Horses In My Dreams was delicately delivered, conjuring up an extraordinary sense of hopeful space and freedom. Big Exit was the perfect contrasting piece, a rough and raucous description of a dangerous and unstable future. From ‘Uh Huh Her’ the standout for me was The Desperate Kingdom of Love, a stark and sad tale of the personal journeys we make in the name of love.

PJ PianoOf course most of the evening was given over to material from White Chalk, and with this album PJ Harvey demonstrates her unwillingness to maintain the status quo artistically, she always looks to push herself further on to a new creative plain. This is especially clear with the incorporation of the piano into her repertoire – a new instrument for Harvey, and also her stripped back vocals which display a greater fragility and higher pitch than previous recordings. Title track White Chalk typifies the feel of the entire album which seems more grounded and natural than earlier work, exploring the organic connections which exist between people, places and the environment.

Grow, Grow, Grow raises questions of how love can be found and cared for, Silence offers a remembrance of the obliterating focus of love, When Under Ether travels to that unseen place where things are not as they seem, and The Mountain has us soaring above the world as we gaze down on the broken things that lay below. So much beauty radiated on this one evening in Brisbane that it is too difficult a task to separate the musical roses from the bountiful display on offer.

PJ Harvey is a rare talent who presents a dazzling range of styles and sounds. She is elegant and refined, yet unafraid to challenge musical categorisation and pre-conceived expectations of how a song should be arranged and the way it should make the listener feel. She is a true evolution in progress and we are fortunate indeed to be able to grow alongside her.

17 Comments

  1. Ricardo

    I have not heard anything from her latest effort but her music can be raw, haunting and mesmerising all at once.

    And while she does not fit the textbook definition of beauty, her music and performance does make her strangely attractive to me. I’ve taken heat from my peers over this for liking women that are “strange” but she does it for me. It’s the music. What can I say?

  2. Narnie

    What a beautiful entrance you gave her in your prose. Your writing is so clear and fluid. Excellent.

    Narnie’s last blog post..Gotta whack this one in today too?

  3. Jo

    This is a lovely piece, really shimmers with her essence. Well done.

    Jo’s last blog post..Connections

  4. celestine

    your writing is excellent and your insight amazing. because of your piece i will now have to check out pj harvey and probably would be very thankful to you afterwards.

    celestine’s last blog post..The Winds

  5. PaulS (gingatao)

    Another wonderful review, the kind of review the performer herself would appreciate, intelligent, involved and respectful and beautifully written. The writing frames the event and transports the reader into it. You should think about sending it to her agents or record company, they may be able to use it in someway and I’m sure P.J. herself would love to read it.

    PaulS (gingatao)’s last blog post..on my best behaviour

  6. Tracey

    Hi Ricardo – I have loved PJ’s music for a few years now, but hadn’t given her latest album the same level of focus. After seeing the live performances of her latest tracks, I will certainly be listening more. She is just such a wonderful unconventional talent with an awe-inspiring amount of energy.

    You mention her compelling attraction…I so know what you’re talking about. She is beautiful at some more fundamental level than just the physical.

  7. Tracey

    Hi Narnie – Thanks for your comments. There was certainly ‘something’ in the feel of the venue prior to PJ’s entrance which contrasted wonderfully with the feel after her arrival. She is a beautifully poetic singer-songwriter who simply exudes passion for her craft…certainly a true inspiration in that respect.

  8. Tracey

    Hi Jo – As always your lovely words bring a smile to my face. I was just fortunate to be there on the night to experience the wonder of PJ Harvey.

  9. Tracey

    Hi Celestine – Thanks so much for passing through, it’s lovely to see you visit. I’m so glad you enjoyed the PJ Harvey piece, she really is a wonder to behold. I would certainly encourage you to explore her musical works further as she offers many rewards and surprises. I’d love to hear what you think of her music.

  10. Tracey

    Hi PaulS – Thank you for your very kind words, they certainly mean a lot coming from you with your mastery over the written word.

    As for your suggestion to send this work further onwards, well that is a wonderful compliment in itself. I can’t say I’ve ever taken that next step when writing about an ‘artist’, but perhaps one of these days I will jump that hurdle.

  11. TheElementary

    Tracey- I just wanted to say that I like the new layout of Quiet Paws! It reminds me of a garden 🙂
    Cheers.

    TheElementary’s last blog post..Big Sky At Night: Child’s Delight

  12. TheElementary

    Hi Tracey- I tagged you for a little something on my blog. I’ve never tagged anyone before :O Did I do it right?
    🙂

    TheElementary’s last blog post..Six Word Memoir

  13. Crafty Green Poet

    I love PJ Harvey’s music, my favourite is also Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’. I should go out and buy her latest album, she’s one of the few performers worth buying all the albums by.

    Crafty Green Poet’s last blog post..Dream Birds

  14. Tracey

    Hi The Elementary – Thanks so much for your lovely words, and so glad you like it. Ladybugs have been much on my mind of late. The design was done by my wonderful husband Lee

  15. Tracey

    Hi The Elementary – Sorry for my tardiness in replying to your tag. I’ll give it some thought, and I’ll post something up in response in the not-too-distant future.

  16. Tracey

    Hi Crafty Green Poet – I so agree with you on PJ Harvey. Some artists have their hit and miss albums, but she is all about the quality. White Chalk is very different, but I think this is what she does best.

  17. harmonie22

    Ooh, I love her. I didn’t know she had a new album out- thanks. Great writing too!

    harmonie22’s last blog post..Author / Book Review: Italo Svevo

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