PJ HARVEY @ The Academy, New York, NY 6/7/95

"This is, like, my fourth time in New York. I guess I'm starting to feel a bit old," said PJ Harvey before pleasing her ferocious packed house of admirers with "O My Lover," the rabid ballad that kicked off her debut album, "DRY." That first go-round was only three years ago, but the cagey "DRY"-era PJ who led a sludgy alternative trio outfitted in black and a severely coifed bun seems like an ancient relic now. The "TO BRING YOU MY LOVE" Harvey of today has evolved into a chameleon princess with a beefy, quasi-industrial sound (courtesy of Nine Inch Nails co-producer Flood). She's ditched her old band, refined her tortured voice into an operatic tool, let down her dark tresses, and acquired an appetite for slinky gowns and stage dramatics. Walking on stage to the menacing guitar riff of "To Bring You My Love," Harvey's smart aleck grin, framed in heavy red lipstick, seemed to imply she was happy as hell not to be entwined in her guitar strap. Matter of fact, this guitar-goddess never actually played a note. Her body, wrapped in a hot-pink, skin-tight catsuit, was her primary instrument--she accentuated rhythm and sound by shifting her legs and arms into kabuki-style theatrics. Nothing beats witnessing Harvey swish around stage in high heels, smack a tambourine across her hip, or giddily thrust a toy megaphone up against the mic. It's like watching a drag queen's performance without the campiness--a bold, in-your-face assertion of feminine qualities that has little to do with gender. Her band's tight, expert accompaniment provided equal doses of flash and grit. The not-too-long set relied heavily on material from the new album, and she previewed two new tunes, "Long Time" and "One Time Too Many" (from the "Batman Forever" soundtrack). Although staples like "Me-Jane," "50ft. Queenie," and "Hook" were given intensely fierce workouts, the evening was thin on favorites from the PJ songbook. The prolonged break before the encore caused a brief volley of booing. When Polly Jean finally trotted on stage again and seared into the double-whammy of "Fountain" and the colossal, pagan anthem, "Long Snake Moan," she practically brought the whole audience--which included David Byrne, spiritual progenitor Diamanda Galas, and (gasp!) Madonna--to their knees. "You want to feel my long snake...moan!," howled this devilish serpentine who's progressed further in four albums than most artists do in their entire career. Hopefully, PJ Harvey will never stop shedding new skins.

Smith Galtney