PJ Harvey and John Parish at the Roseland

PJ Harvey and John Parish live on stage at the Roseland in Portland, OR

In a 1993 interview conducted by Pere Ubu’s Dave Thomas, Charles Thompson (better known as Black Francis of the Pixies) rather infamously concluded that most women shouldn’t bother with rock. He reflected on his statements in a 1998 interview with the Onion’s Keith Phipps, clarifying that they were a reaction to “the phenomenon of diary-rock,” in which artists such as Jewel and Alanis Morissette rode a wave of unremarkable faux-alternative jams to the top of the charts.

If he would have been listening to more of PJ Harvey, I’m sure he would have had an easier time handling it.

What makes Polly Jean such a dynamic artist is her versatility, yielding a lack of predictability album-to-album, tour-to-tour. The PJ Harvey that played at the Roseland last week was different than the one that played ten years ago, or even the year before. She managed to balance her singular presence with a commitment to the song over the performer, commanding her audience with unwavering precision.

In performing her collaborations with John Parish she wisely avoided the obviousness of a frontwoman/band dynamic in favor of volunteering her voice as an additional instrument. The musicians proved capable enough to match her tenacity for the duration of an eclectic set filled with as much clamor as quietness. Harvey’s vocals were heartfelt and strangely cinematic, with movements and changes in posture subtle but somehow calculated. This made explosions of discordance and Harvey’s signature standoffishness that much more effective, particularly during the climactic performances of “Pig Will Not” and “Taut.”

The audience’s adulation of the duo was palpable and the band proved to be gracious hosts, thoroughly expressing their gratitude and playing a modest encore to thunderous applause.

Rightfully so. To call PJ Harvey a wonderful female artist would be completely unfair. She’s a terrific artist, period. Take that, diary rockers.

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