ARCHIVE of District of Cacophony

June 10, 2009 | REVIEWS

John Parish and PJ Harvey, Warner Theatre, 6/5/09

I have been a pretty big PJ Harvey fan for a long time, but my attention has waned in recent years. I haven’t been super impressed with any of her albums in years; I haven’t followed the type of music news that would cover her material. I am out of the loop, I guess you’d say. But when I saw an ad for her show with John Parish I felt interested and decided I’d like to see her again.

The last time I saw PJ Harvey was a momentous evening: September 10, 2001. Nine or ten hours after the show, planes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and I didn’t really reflect on that show for a while. This time nothing so earthshaking took place in the immediate aftermath, so I am ready to do that contemplation. And my review is basically that she put on a great show but that acting as singer for John Parish is a bit of a waste of her musical talents. Nonetheless it was a very good performance.

Marquee at the Warner Theatre

I don’t have the new album yet, and had heard mixed things about it, but I know the first PJH/Parish album pretty much by heart and they played most of the good songs off of that one (I would’ve liked to hear “That Was My Veil” but otherwise I was satisfied). The new stuff sounded like a mix of quite straightforward rock songs and a few freaky weird ones like “Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen”:

Overall it was totally enjoyable. It helped that I had good tickets, sitting in the fifth row of the not-sold-out Warner Theatre; it helped that we were allowed to bring drinks to our seats; it helped that Polly herself looked great in her usual weirdly sexy way, dancing around barefoot in a cute black dress.

The band was solid though kind of odd… dressed in nearly-matching hats and suits. John Parish and the other guitarist also wielded identical guitars at one point. For the encore they did a single song that Parish sang lead vocals on but otherwise he was mostly a non-presence. The drummer was ace. They were all consummate professionals, and I rarely have the chance (or even interest) to see that kind of professional musicianship from such a close vantage point. So those things were all interesting.

But mostly the show was about Polly Jean, who is massively charismatic and seemed comfortable even when she was just bopping around waiting to sing. I was thinking that this must be a pretty easy type of tour for her, where she doesn’t have to do anything but sing. She sounded good and was so dynamic it was hard to keep my eyes off of her and pay any attention to the band. And anyway it was worth the price of admission just to hear “Civil War Correspondent.”

In the end, I couldn’t help but wish that, hey, while she was on stage, it would be cool if she grabbed a guitar and played a couple old songs from her fantastic early albums, but I wasn’t surprised that she didn’t. Some of the other people in the crowd seemed disappointed that she didn’t but I was mostly just wistful. It was cool, though — I had another bout of guitar rock to jet off to.