PJ Harvey. House of Blues. April 17.
There are those performers out there that we all know about. We're familiar with their work but perhaps they've stopped releasing in the U.S. or are simply happy to not have a huge marketing push behind them; content to simply release their music to hard-core fans and tour intermittently. Perhaps their work is simply no longer "popular" and they are happy to be making the work they make with little to no awareness to the general public? More often than not these are singular artists who make interesting work and aren't concerned with maintaining the superstar status that brought them to popular consciousness.
Polly Jean Harvey (AKA PJ Harvey) is one of the latter. Never really content with the adulation of the masses that came with her rise to popularity in the early 90s alt-rock scene, she has consistently made and released music but has make little to no effort in mass marketing, which made her show at the House of Blues a real surprise.
Originally a trio (the PJ Harvey "trio" with PJ, Rob Ellis on drums and Ian Oliver on bass) they achieved quick fame with the release of their debut album "Dry" in 1992. This was followed by even greater success with 1993's "Rid of Me." By the end of 1993 PJ Harvey began recording as a solo artist and her debut album "To Bring You My Love" sold in excess of a million copies and solidified her reputation as a powerful singer/songwriter. She has consistently released music in her native England but her presence in the U.S. has waned over the years and she hasn't toured here since 2009. This is a shame.
Hitting the stage wearing a bright blue velvet wrap tunic with a large bird-hat-thing on her head Ms. Harvey immediately was a sight to behold. Touring behind her latest album, "The Hope Six Demolition Project," (the title references the HOPE VI projects in the United States, where run-down public housing is demolished to make room for better housing but ultimately leading to those same residents being unable to return due to higher rents) much of the set-list was given over to new songs but she did make time for some older gems.
Always veering between performance art and punk/art rock, PJ Harvey is a thing to behold on stage. Her voice as powerful as ever, there was a vitality and an anger that definitely spoke to the zeitgeist. The newer songs walked a fine line between defiance and uplifting. Ms. Harvey surprised us all by jumping between lead vocals and the saxophone, wailing in two formats if you will. The audience was extremely receptive to the new work with the opener "Chain of Keys" and "The Community of Hope" being stand-outs. "Let England Shake" (her previous album) was represented by the title song and the wonderful "The Words That Maketh Murder" (both notable for her use of the autoharp). She also gave us long-time fans a treat with versions of her 90s hits "50ft Queenie" and "Down By the Water" that brought down the house.
This tour is sadly not a long one, only 15 shows between April 13 and May 12, and it doesn't venture far from the coasts. But it is well worth a road trip if you can. PJ Harvey is a powerful performer who refuses to conform to expectations. Expect to not just see an enthralling artist verging on performance art but also a kick-ass rock show that will blow you away. Easily one of the best shows so far this year.
For more on PJ Harvey, visit her website.