Saturday, April 16, 2011


PJ Harvey
The Warfield, San Francisco

April 14, 2011

Umlaut is still on a hiatus from most Metal shows... and what better way to continue my wandering through Music than with my old obsession PJ Harvey. This was the first of only 4 U.S. shows and a warm up for PJ's weekend appearance down at that hipster magnet Coachella. I like her new album Let England Shake more than her previous release, but I went into this show with no expectations. I've been fortunate to have followed PJ since her 1st album and tour, but I was hoping to regain some of my fandom that has waned in recent years.

Dry Tour
(From the Umlaut Archives)

There was a time when I was completely fanatical about PJ and I've witnessed some amazing performances over the years. However, her last S.F. show 2 years ago didn't engage me at all; I understand that artists need to change as their creativity directs them... but PJ's recent direction just hasn't done it for me. So, entering The Warfield, I cleared my head and hoped PJ would win me over again.

The Warfield was sold out well in advance and the anticipation in the crowd was thick enough to cut with a knife as the houselights went down. Judging from the stage I knew it was going to be a different type of PJ Harvey performance; I've never seen The Warfield stage so bare and empty without even a backdrop being used. The effect was like seeing PJ and her band playing in a void that had no reference to space or time.

The only production was moody dark lighting and the odd pieces of vintage furniture used by the band. Despite this, the staging worked well to focus attention on the songs and the introverted tone of the performance. PJ is such a chameleon; she's been a different personality for every album and tour. For this album and tour she is like a Victorian storyteller traveling back through time armed with an autoharp and guitar.. and dressed like a character from a World War I memorial come to life with a white flowing outfit and black feather head thing.

Her current band is a musical team featuring longtime cohort John Parish, Mick Harvey, and drummer Jean-Marc Butty (who played on her To Bring You My Love album). The tone of this performance was more like a recital than a concert and it was the most introverted PJ show I've ever seen. Normally if I call a show "introverted" it would mean "self-absorbed" but in this case it meant the focus was on the words PJ was singing instead of her personality. This feeling was magnified as PJ didn't say a word to the audience in between songs.

As the set flowed off the stage like rolls of sheet music, PJ displayed more talent in her little finger than any bald screaming Metal guy wearing half pants. She and band performed every song off the new album with the set rounded out with a few older songs, but nothing dating from before 1995... which I'm sure bummed out the more casual fans in attendance. The "hits" highlight was 'Down By The Water' > 'C'mon Billy' which came near the end of the main set; my favorite part of the set was the encore double shot of 'Big Exit' > 'Angeline'. These few older songs were reimagined as PJ strummed her autoharp instead of a guitar for them, which gave them the same outworldly vibe that is the aesthetic of PJ's current theme and displayed in her latest songs.

As we left The Warfield I wasn't sure how I felt about what I'd just witnessed. Part of me still misses *the old* PJ of 1991-93 when she was a She-Demon guitarist fronting a power trio. However, her evolution as an artist has been interesting for me to follow over the past 17 (!) years. As I've worked on this post I've come to the realization that at this point I'm a PJ Harvey fan for life, whether I like it or not... but I'm cool with it.

If you bought one of every merch item you would have paid around $200. On the way back to the car, some pimply-faced teenagers called us fags. Earlier today was Record Store Day 2011 (For those keeping score: I managed to get 9 of the 13 items on my 2011 RSD list...) and with that in mind I just pulled out all of the PJ Harvey singles (7" and CD Singles) and promo-only CDs in the Umlaut Archives dating back to 1992:

The Geeks shall inherit The Earth... Click HERE for Photo Ray's shots from the night!