Into Live Music Review: PJ Harvey
Date: 25 September 2023
It seems to be de rigueur at the moment to do a tour and play the new (or iconic) album in full with another set dedicated to a mix of other tracks from one’s back catalogue (see Dexys and Echo & the Bunnymen as recent examples). To do so requires a minimum of two basic things: first, said album has to be able to stand the test of time. And second, said artist has to be able to deliver those songs and keep the crowd onside throughout.
Fortunately for those in attendance on a windswept, cold Monday night in Glasgow’s East End, PJ Harvey not only delivered those songs from the new album I Inside The Old Year Dying, she did so with such style and reverie that the crowd was left in absolute awe. Thereafter, the second half of the show, containing choice cuts from her back catalogue, just kept getting better and better.
Of course, one also needs a band that can translate the nuances, the subtleties, the textures and the sounds from the studio, to the live experience too. With the likes of John Parish on keyboards/guitar and ex Bad Seed/Gallon Drunk James Johnston on guitar/keyboards/violin, Harvey has surrounded herself with a solid group that know their musical chops.
Opener Prayer At The Gate was simply mesmerising, atmospheric and unworldly. Delivering this haunting vocal, Harvey prowled the stage, as she would for the next couple of hours, bewitching the crowd under her spell.
All Souls was like a decadent death march, spine tingling throughout which was followed up by the melodious A Child’s Question, August, the track embellished by fantastic Korg keys from Parish.
The album set finished with A Noiseless Noise, coupled with motorik drums and a rocking and shrieking violin. Not bad and we were only half way through the set! In between, the band (without Polly) played the folky The Colour Of The Earth.
The second set kicked off with The Glorious Land replete with false start; Polly coming in too early. A smile, a laughing apology and take two, and off we went again. In some ways the mistake felt more special, more human, something which helped enhance the audience/ artist vibe.
Perhaps difficult to pick out a favourite but if pushed, The Words That Maketh Murder was a highlight as was The Desperate Kingdom Of Love. During the latter, in the normally raucous Barrowland, one could’ve heard a pin drop, as the crowd held on to every strain of Harvey’s vocal. Also, at the culmination of Down In The Water, the eruption of noise and of love in the room for the band was something I’d not experienced in this venue for many a year. Just sensational.
In all, twenty-five songs were played for what was a special gig. Was it even a gig? Theatre? A show? An event? A happening? A performance? Whatever it was, if you were fortunate to be there, you know you were at possibly the gig of the year. All the more impressive given this was Harvey’s first new music since 2016 (and she commented that the new songs “all came out of me in about three weeks”) and first live shows since 2017.
Let’s hope PJ Harvey returns with more shows in the not too distant future. For more on the album, visit the website here.