LIVE: P J HARVEY – Fremantle, 17 January, 2017
Fremantle Arts Centre
Reviewed by Shane Pinnegar
Photography by Stuart McKay
You’ve got to have serious confidence in your latest album to play it – every song – to the detriment of many of your more well known tracks, but Polly Jean Harvey MBE is an enigmatic artist like few others.
Harvey and her multi-instrumentalist band (including ex-Bad Seed Mick Harvey and long-time collaborator John Parish) march onstage – beating drums, honking saxes, and a violin harping – and launch into the album The Hope Six Demolition Project.
It’s a story worthy of publicity – the Washington DC Hope VI program of replacing run-down housing with something nicer, left many of the original residents unable to afford the new accommodation – Dollar Dollar, indeed.
P J Harvey’s art is a rare thing in these over-sanitised, autotuned times. Spartan like German cabaret, catchily melodic exactly like pop radio is not, with two static and one occasional drumkits giving the sound a primal and magnetic Bo Diddley/ Adam & the Ants/ Delta Blues/ dark gospel feel that is hypnotically appealing. If belief is faith, and faith is religion, then this is the gospel according to Harvey, and her allure is laid bare as she tells her complete story of the Demolition of low-income housing for greed, with just a few old favourites sprinkled throughout for good measure.
Of course, many of the crowd don’t give a damn – they want to hear Polly ramp up her guitar… but they will be disappointed tonight, as she wields only a saxophone, and in fact barely talks – her words are mostly sung tonight, not spoken – apart from introducing her band and saying some encore thanks.
There’s a feisty encore where Harvey transforms Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited into alt rock, and Is This Desire?’s bleeding heart is bared for all to see in what must have been an emotionally cathartic performance for all the players.
Fittingly, P J Harvey delivered art at the Fremantle Arts Centre in a raw and emotional performance that even those hoping for more of a ‘greatest hits’ show couldn’t help but be moved by. She is, and shall always remain, beholden to no-one – not even her audience – yet somehow in not giving them what they thought they wanted, she gave them what they most needed: music with a social, environmental and artistic conscience.
Chain of Keys
The Ministry of Defence
The Community of Hope
The Orange Monkey
A Line in the Sand
Let England Shake
The Words That Maketh Murder
The Glorious Land
When Under Ether
The Ministry of Social Affairs
Down by the Water
To Bring You My Love
Highway 61 Revisited
Is This Desire?
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About the Author: Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE