PJ Harvey @ The Sidney Myer Music Bowl

pj-harvey-1478274130It’s been a long five year break since her last visit, but PJ finally made her way here with her latest tour and I made it to my ninth PJ concert. Short review, it was awesome (again). Passionate, intense, musically and vocally perfect, great crowd.

Last time I was at the The Sidney Myer Music Bowl I didn’t have a great experience and found the venue rather underwhelming, but I enjoyed it much better this time now that I managed to get proper seating tickets for my friend and I. The people on the grassy hill behind us got very lucky with the weather – it was a perfect, beautiful summer evening with not a cloud in sight; had the concert happened a day earlier they’d be cold and miserable, toughing it through the rain. Sitting on the grass rather did look like an inviting option, but I’m not sure I’d be up for the soreness after four hours of it. On our way to the gig, neither of us could remember exactly which way the Music Bowl was, so our strategy was to spot an alternative-looking person likely to visit a PJ Harvey concert and follow behind them, which worked to perfection.

The opening act was a duo called Xylouris White. I thought their music sounded vaguely like Dirty Three, a guess which made sense when I googled the band and found out that it in fact featured the drummer from Dirty Three, Jim White. The other guy, a Greek musician and singer, played a lute-like instrument called laouto. Can’t say they were really my cuppa but I enjoyed a couple of their songs.

PJ got onstage at around 9.15, wearing a rather eccentric and fabulous purple outfit and purple feathers in her hair, mowhawk-like. This time around, she was backed by a nine-piece band, including long-time collaborators Mick Harvey and John Parish, and for the first time, saxophones baby! Unsurprisingly so, since the latest album relies heavily on sax. Introducing the band was the only bit of crowd banter throughout the show, but I never hold the lack of interaction against the artists as long as they’re into the show and give it all. It was also a much more deliberately theatrical performance from PJ, who for the most part was freed from having to play an instrument, so she could prowl dramatically across the stage.

They played five songs off The Hope Six Demolition Project (gah I hate this clunky title) in a row, before varying it with the older tracks, including some non-obvious choices. Some picks from Let England Shake was a given, considering how close it is to the new album thematically, but To Talk to You from White Chalk was a nice surprise. I absolutely adore that album and there’s something about those ghostly, otherworldly songs that’s especially mesmerising live. The River as a final encore song was also unexpected (Is This Desire? is such an underrated gem in PJ’s discography), and 50ft Queenie was a glorious blast of the old-old-school, snarly shouty PJ. I love her recent stuff but god I wish I could see a whole show of her just rocking the **** out. It was great to hear the old favourites Down By The Water and To Bring You My Love, though in case of the latter I wasn’t 100% sold on the saxophone interpretation; that song is just not the same without the sinister organ outro. Of the new album, The Wheel was a clear standout but I enjoyed all of the new songs.

My only complaint was that there wasn’t a second show, so I could experience all of this again.

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