Thursday, June 4, 2009
One of the best things about living in Kentucky is that when a truly great band or artist comes to town you can make a sure-fire bet that there will be plenty of empty seats at their shows for you and your friends to fill. Now I don’t mean that as a swipe against Kentucky (I love my home state) but it’s just a fact that unless you are a top forty act, an aging metal band or a popular country artist you will have trouble selling out a gig here.
That was definitely the case at last night’s phenomenal PJ Harvey-John Parish gig at Covington, Kentucky’s Madison Theater, as the place was maybe half filled to capacity. Thankfully the audience that did turn out was absolutely adoring, and it was obvious though the show that Harvey, Parish and their band were more than appreciative of the loving response to their music.
I must admit that I have wanted to see PJ Harvey for so long that just being a few feet away from her for an entire gig was more than a bit surreal, and the buzzed feeling it gave me is going to fight against this post probably proving successful. So, to get it out of the way let me just say that the show was absolutely wonderful. Polly Jean was in terrific voice and spirits and the band was quite amazing. It was frankly everything I hoped a PJ Harvey gig would be and witnessing it so close (Kelley and I were right next to the stage) was really special.
My love affair with the music and career of Polly Jean Harvey began just after her mind-blowing second album Rid of Me came out in 1993. I was 20 years old and I got my first taste of Polly’s music while I was helping out my friend Trace at a University of Indiana radio station. Hearing her voice for the first time was one of the major music moments I have experienced in my life. I was eternally hooked after that introduction and have passionately followed her career since, collecting every album, single, collaboration and bootleg I could get my hands on. I have stated here before something along the lines that I think Polly Jean Harvey is the most important rock artist to emerge in the past twenty years and I stand behind that, a fact that made the lack of people at last night’s show all the more hard to swallow.
And what a show it was. Dressed in black and barefooted (I was so close that the black nail-polish on her toenails caught my eye several times during the show) Polly put on a fascinating and totally captivating performance that consisted of just songs from the two albums she and Parish have put out together. The fact that she ignored her more well known solo works entirely might have turned off some folks, but I found the uncompromising performance all the stronger because of the exclusions. The two Parish albums are real treasures and I was thrilled to see them highlighted so strongly, as they both contain some of Harvey’s most demanding and experimental work.
It was that experimental nature that really came through in last night’s show. Other artists might name check some of rock’s most outlandish acts, but with Polly Jean Harvey you can really detect her absorption of artists like Captain Beefheart and especially Pere Ubu. It’s no coincidence that the man who stood directly in front of us last night playing bass and keyboards was none other than Eric Drew Feldman, a man who played with both Beefheart and Ubu. Seeing Feldman, playing some of the most economical and devastating bass I have heard in quite awhile, was extremely special but the entire band was just as pulverizing.
PJ is without her guitar on this tour, which threw the spotlight more on her remarkable band than in some of the concert videos I have of her in my collection. Joining Parish and Feldman were Giovanni Ferrario, offering up some mesmerizing and brutal axe-work, and the excellent Jean-Marc Butty on drums. Harvey has always surrounded herself with top musicians and this band is perhaps the greatest as a collective whole that she has ever played with. Polly Jean is absolutely mesmerizing to watch but I had to tear my eyes away throughout the show to marvel at the intelligent and outstanding playing of her side-men and it was just a pleasure watching each of them…especially Feldman who was truly a God in the house.
Highlights of the set included the storming opening of “Black Hearted Love”, the audacious “Pig Will Not”, a song in which the obviously very gentle PJ Harvey transforms into something in need of exorcising, the moving “Passionless, Pointless” and the fiery Parish sang rocker “False Fire” that began the encore. The whole set was really the highlight though, with each song seeming a logical step from the last one.
I would also like to note how genuinely friendly Harvey and her band came across to the audience and each other. There was a real sense of goodness generating from each of them, which made the brief laughing fit from Parish that stopped the show momentarily seem perfectly fitting. It’s been awhile since I have seen a show that had such a nice communal and respectful feel about it, and it was extremely refreshing.
So, I have finally seen PJ Harvey live and it was everything I hoped it would be. It took me a long time but it was worth the wait. Despite the pain that occupied me throughout the show, thanks to this bloody injury that seems to occupy my every moment now, seeing Polly Jean live so close-up will occupy a very special place in my memories. I doubt she will head this way again anytime soon so I am extremely grateful that I was able to make this gig, after blowing all of my other opportunities at seeing her.
***I just found another review of this show, along with a picture, and it can be read here.***