She came, She saw, She conquered...
PJ Harvey, backed by longtime cohorts Mick Harvey & John Parish, laid the ground for their Coachella appearance with a warmup date at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco.
True to her lightly touring form, this was one of only four US dates supporting this record. (White Chalk from 2007 was honored with only NY & LA dates.) The crowd seemed to savor the rarity of the occasion, and were primed and ready to go. As the time approached, the intensity at the edge of the stage was near unbearable.
(Sacrificing cigarettes and restroom for pole position had no impact on this, of course...)
It's always interesting to see what tweaks Harvey has made in her sets, always striving to move in a different direction, setting up new challenges and fearlessly staring them down. This time, like her current LP Let England Shake, she primarily wielded an autoharp, ditching it occasionally for a guitar. Vocally, she remained mostly in the higher register, making the impact of her guttural vocals on the older material all the more jarring.
She managed to perform the new album, not in order, but in it's entirety, dipping into her back catalogue to break it up, including songs from Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea and To Bring You My Love, among others.
Final observation: perhaps the most enjoyable part of the show was the transformation of the new songs to a live setting and the integration of the band, (Parish in particular), giving an added measure of power, and highlighting the strengths of their lasting collaboration.
Let England Shake, for the uninitiated, is a sutite of sometimes seething, sometimes claustrophobic lullabies on the horrors of war, set to simple tunes, kept off kilter by thoughtfully chosen samples or lyrical references, ranging from Niney The Observer to Eddie Cochran. The force of her personality stamps it all unmistakably as her own.
One of the more prescient reviews on the LP by Ann Powers (for the LA Times...she's now with NPR), noted the singalong qualities of the songs as a strength, and the stage brought those words to life.
NPR has kindly made the show available as "Let San Francisco Shake: PJ Harvey In Concert"