25 Jan 2017

PJ Harvey: searing, soothing, always captivating

From RNZ Music, 1:01 pm on 25 January 2017

Polly Harvey and her nine-piece band delivered a spellbinding performance at Auckland's Logan Campbell Centre last night. Tony Stamp reports back.


Nine-piece band PJ Harvey marched onto the Logan Campbell stage to the beat of a military-style snare drum, and proceeded to deliver 90 minutes of highly-choreographed rock 'n' roll theatre, heavily focused on material from the most recent album The Hope 6 Demolition Project. Topics like war and poverty loomed large over proceedings, providing an incendiary charge to an already thrilling performance.

The band, all garbed in black, played a variety of percussion and brass, with former Bad Seed Mick Harvey handling bass and keyboard duties. At one point Terry Edwards played 2 saxophones at once, and the band's leader retreated from centre stage to allow him to vamp all over the finale of 'Dollar Dollar'. It’s not often a brass section receives rapturous applause at a rock gig, but it happened repeatedly last night.

Polly 'PJ' Harvey herself was resplendent in leather mini and feather headdress, sans guitar for the whole show, favouring her new instrument of choice, the saxophone. She danced, at times emulating Elvis Presley, she drew the crowd in with a whisper then pinned them back with a howl. Her voice is as fine as it’s ever been, soaring in the upper register for most of the set’s beginning, then later dropping down to a deep moan, reminding us that, 'oh yeah, she can do that, too'.

This incarnation of Polly Jean Harvey operates like a conductor, and her band - and we the audience - were in her thrall during the raucous wall of brass that formed the backbone of ‘The Wheel’, and the delicacy of the stately, sombre ‘To Talk To You’. Old favourites ‘50ft Queenie’, ‘Down By The Water’, and ‘To Bring You My Love’ made welcome appearances near the end of the set, as vital tonight as they were 20 years ago, reinvigorated by the new band.

Complaints about the venue were many – the queues to the bar were ridiculously long, and The Logan Campbell Centre has a lot of unfortunately-placed concrete columns - but the performance was so commanding, so finely-wrought, that any negatives were quickly put aside, and the crowd that flocked out onto the streets of Greenlane was nothing short of elated.