Billboard On-line - 21st January 1999
Music Week - 9th January 1999
The Times - Jan 9-15th 1999
Spin Feb. '99
PJ Harvey Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC
It's a tribute to Polly Jean Harvey's gift that this perfunctory hour-plus-encores concert, with most of the songs drawn from her disappointing last two albums, still often rippled with magic. After redefining avant-garde rock on Rid of Me, and making jaws drop with the theatrical tour that followed 1995's To Bring You My Love, Harvey has given up hard and creepy to work on soft and creepy. Instead of buckshot mythologizing, the recent Is This Desire? offers subtle character sketches that require headphones and a close reading of her first-ever lyric sheet.
But 'mature' art song is a lesser genre than Harvey's earlier, undefinable punk; this transition has sapped her strength almost as much as when she ceded musical control to John Parish on 1996's Dance Hall at Louse Point.
Fans now spend their time at her shows waiting for drops of precious rock.
They come, and they're worth it.
After the chamber-drones of openers Rachel's, Harvey emerged in leather jacket, whitened face, black bangs, and her favourite red dress. Her concerts demand a push up front, to appreciate the ease and simplicity of her transformation into the possessed. The drama is enforced (between songs, she relaxes and banters with her cult). It just bounces off her, a
trick of lighting, posture, orchestration. With her sunken eyes and hands clenched at her sides during 'Is This Desire?' my imagination kept hectoring me 'That's Anne Frank!" Harvey didn't go for much at first, but on 'Taut', the fourth number, she erupted: Gesticulating insanely. Sonic Youth guitars herky-jerking behind her, she leaned on the microphone stand like a greaser girl slouching against a car. 'Joy' followed, redone as bluesy punk with a slide guitar riff played over and over, almost like a hip-hop loop. Then some bongo playing, John Parish on the bahoozachord, and Harvey finally ripping shit up on guitar again (she mainly sang on her last tour). Even when the show's energy dropped - inevitable given the new lower-key material - the constantly reconfigured musicianship was a guaranteed head trip. Most of the remaining highlights came from earlier records, especially three songs from Rid of Me: Missed, made even more gorgeous by lap steel; Hook; and the utterly raw Snake, with drummer Rob Ellis howling in falsetto. Harvey's voice has only gotten bigger over the years and part of the treat live is that it's less masked than on her records. Singing '2000 miles away' on Angelene, there was so much velvet in her tone she could have been Chrissie Hynde. Be nice if she'd rock us all night long next time, but given her enormous talent, it's hard to even complain.