While few major artists would dare even attempt to play a concert that included none of the songs that made them famous, PJ Harvey overwhelmed a Seattle crowd by doing just that on June 16th at the Moore. With John Parish handling lead guitar, Harvey unapologetically blasted through a set limited to material from their two collaborative albums, the recently released A Man A Woman Walked By and the 1996 Dance Hall At Louse Point.
Appearing barefoot, in a loose black shift, red lipstick punctuating her chalk-white face, Harvey was at turns innocent, unhinged and oracular. One moment a demure young waif in an English garden, skipping across the stage waving a mid-thigh handful of her dress, another deranged and scornful, shrieking “just stick it up your fucking ass” to a man with “chicken liver balls” during the song “A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go,” Harvey, as always, confounded easy categorization.
Harvey, Parish and their fedora-wearing bandmates opened the show with a blistering one-two combination, “Black Hearted Love” and “Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen,” from A Man A Woman Walked By, the startled crowd responding with a rousing, prolonged ovation.
Always unsparing in her depictions of bleakness and despair, Harvey gave no succor to those who may have come seeking uplift or comfort this night. Religious sentiment, for example, found expression only in notes of hypocrisy and disappointment. Harvey fell to her knees pleading “Jesus save me” in the voice of Billy, the fornicating evangelical boyfriend of “Taut,” only later to warn God “you’d better not let me down this time,” while bathed in blue and white shafts of light during the unutterably beautiful “Cracks In The Canvas.” “I’m looking for an answer,” she entreated. “Me and a million others.”
For her encore, Harvey surprised with a John Parish solo song, the beautiful “False Fire.” She then sent the crowd out into the unusually pleasant June night with the melancholy “April,” whose closing line “your rain overcomes me” was a fitting reminder to Seattleites that these summer days are like glimmers of hope or joy in a Harvey song: ephemeral, slated for imminent demise.