PJ Harvey Outdid Herself Over The Weekend At Revention CenterPJ Harvey. Photo: Christie Goodwin/Nasty Little Man
By all appearances, it was to be an exceptional show as composer and multi-instrumentalist, PJ Harvey made her return to Houston over the weekend. I was so elated at a chance to see one of my favorite performers play in our city again that I watched in awe as Harvey ran through an impressive list of tracks. However, my excitement wasn’t enough to fill the room at Revention Center, and with the balcony closed and the ceiling brought down to create a more intimate experience, the room still wasn’t full. While I found her audience to be full of 50 year olds who couldn’t handle their alcohol, her set was still mesmerizing and beautiful from start to finish.
However, the fact that the show didn’t sell out is nothing new in Houston. We don’t get bands here for a good while sometimes because we don’t sell out shows or act like good concert attendees when the bands do come. It’s been a good while since PJ Harvey has stopped in town, but the size of the crowd didn’t stop her from putting on a mesmerizing performance. Starting with an entry like that of a drum line, Harvey and her nine piece band entered the stage like they were a part of a New Orleans-based party complete with Harvey playing saxophone along with them. After settling in, Harvey opened with “Chain of Keys” from her latest release, The Hope Six Demolition Project. Quickly, if you had heard the new album, you realized that the live version was almost exactly like it is on the album. In fact, if you paid close attention to her backing band, you should have noticed Alain Johannes from Queens of the Stone Age and Them Crooked Vultures as one of the members. She kept things new by playing sax on “Ministry of Defense” and getting funky on “The Orange Monkey.” The band and Harvey together sounded truly amazing and her vocals were as on point as it gets.
Things got a little more playful with the track “A Line In The Sand“ before she broke out a favorite from her previous album with “Let England Shake.” The new set up added a gorgeous, lush twist to the song that was well received by those in attendance. She stayed in line with the album, following up with a more rousing version of “The Words That Maketh Murder” before leaping into “The Glorious Land” with a softness that felt more fun than the intense route she took with “Written On The Forehead.” While Harvey simply bowed after each song, there were moments where it felt like the audience was in tune with her every word.
By the time Harvey began to delve into her album White Chalk, starting with “To Talk To You,” it was apparent that the crowd was loving this backwards leap into her impressive catalog. However, Harvey would return to her newest album by performing “Dollar Dollar” like she was truly on the streets of some metropolis as the backing sounds from the track itself set the scene. Her vocals truly blew me away as the intensity of her words were felt by everyone in the room. The slow paced song really seemed to offer a nice break in the set, where Harvey for the first time felt vulnerable for a second before owning the stage like she was all alone. She returned to White Chalk again to perform a fresh sounding version of “The Devil,” before returning to the new album again on a raucous version of “The Wheel” and “The Ministry of Social Affairs.” Harvey sounded like she was young again and it felt like she was in her element before tackling “50 Ft. Queenie” from Rid Of Me, which sounded as fresh and energetic as it does on the album. Of course, when Harvey broke out “Down By The Water” from To Bring You My Love, she quickly proved how she held all of us in her hands. She stayed in line with the album, playing a rousing version of “To Bring You My Love,” before again returning to new material with “River Anacostia.”
When it came time for Harvey’s encore, she kept things simple by playing “Medicinals” and closing off with “The River” from Is This Desire? All in all, PJ Harvey gave this city the performance we didn’t earn. Playing the bulk of her new album peppered with older favorites, Harvey sounded as fresh as she did when I saw her in the ’90s and proved that she could still hold a room in the palm of her hands.