The Palais Live Review
February 5th, 2003
Two years ago P J Harvey stood on the stage of The Palais after her third encore and promised us that she would come back. And so last Tuesday night, almost two years to the day, the doors of the old theatre opened once more to admit those Melbournians who had come to keep their tryst with the high priestess of rock.
Greeted by rapturous applause, PJ announced her intention of featuring her early back catalogue material with the opening track, Oh My Lover. After the clapping dies down, the room was so silent waiting for the goddess to speak that when someone did finally scream out, she nearly jumped out of her skin. Following the next track, Good Fortune, random audience members popped out of their seats in spontaneous standing ovations.
As much as we love the comfort of The Palais seating and the great view that it affords, it did feel wrong to be seated during such post-punk classics as Dress and 50ft Queenie. After a blazing rendition of Water, someone posed the question "Why are we sitting down?" PJ smiled and returned "I don't know, that's a question you have to answer" The opening riff of Big Exit proved to be the required trigger, as a horde of dancers conga-ed their way down both aisles.
By this time requests were coming thick and fast, most in the form of incoherent squeals. A guy in the front section called out in response, "She knows what she's doing". Damn right she does, she wrote the book. Well co-authored it at least.
Each of PJ's five albums were featured in the set, with perhaps an emphasis on Rid of Me. Probably no coincidence then that the two new tracks we were treated to had plenty of ROM-era grunt.
Unlike the show two years ago, there was no prowling across the front of the stage. PJ stood firmly behind the microphone with her guitar and commanded respect from the audience. There are not many songstresses who can spit out lyrics like 'You salty dog/you filthy liar' or 'I'll make you kick my injuries/I'll twist your head off' and come out smelling of roses. And in complete contrast to the kick-arse attitude behind PJ's lyrics is her between-song demeanour. Almost demure, she politely acknowledges the audience's adoration. When at the end of her set, she says, "Thank you very much, thank you for listening", we actually believe that she means it. After the first encore, which included one new song as well as the title track to Rid of Me (with drummer Rob providing falsetto backing vocals, 'Lick my legs/I'm on fire', much to our delight), the house lights came up. Undeterred and with absolutely no intention of leaving, the audience gave PJ a standing ovation for which the foundations of The Palais will forever be a little weaker.
PJ returned for two more Rid of Me tracks and the more recent fav, A Place Called Home.
PJ Harvey is one of those rare performers who can create an intimate atmosphere in any kind of venue. When she's in the zone, she takes you there with her. By the end of the evening, the audience would have waged war in her name. Albeit in knee-high lace up boots and studded hot pants. Now that'd be a war worth fighting for.