More love is due for PJ Harvey whose album, Let England Shake, continues to weave its magical spell.

I have to be patient and wait four months before she plays her one and only concert in Italy at Ferrara on July 6th.

I was keen to know how these songs sound live so I asked my friend Rachael to write a guest review of Polly’s recent gig in  London .

Here’s what she wrote:

PJ Harvey @ The Troxy, London, February 28th 2011

On the darkened stage of the 1930s art-deco ex-cinema, Polly Jean Harvey stood in a white spotlight that made her look like a ghostly Victorian figure from a daguerreotype.

Wearing a long white dress and a black feather headdress, she strummed her autoharp as ‘Let England Shake’ filled the Troxy with a curiously ancient sound.

The first six songs were all from the new work, including one not featured on the album; ‘The Big Guns Called Me Back Again’. Then we heard ‘The Devil’ and ‘The Sky Lit Up’ – and I wondered why. I’ve never seen Polly live before, so perhaps it’s her wont to sprinkle in a few old numbers. Still, I couldn’t help thinking we were being compensated for the distinct change in style. I hope not, because it wasn’t necessary.

This audience seemed far more receptive to the new songs than the one at La Maroquinerie in Paris on the CD’s release date, but then we’d had a chance to listen to them. The songs are often fast-paced and end quite abruptly. There was no rock-concert ambiance at all – but the marvellous spectacle of an artist brave enough to give us what we didn’t know we wanted or needed.

Polly’s voice sounded like that of a timeless traveller who had seen war in all its non-glory – bound by fate to recount the horror and sadness, offering no judgement or solution. Some of the songs even appeared to be carried off with a certain air of glee – like old folk songs whose words are passed on even though the original memory of the events they describe is lost.

Polly didn’t speak between the songs and after the tenth song, ‘Last Living Rose,’ a male voice from the audience pleaded “say hello!” – but Polly didn’t speak despite two more later appeals from the same voice. Another (female) voice regularly shouted “water!” throughout the concert, as if to influence the setlist. There’s always one.

Every song got huge applause and someone shouted “thank you Polly” after the fifth song, ‘Written on the Forehead’ – which was the most appropriate comment of the night, IMO.

After 19 songs and still no speech, Polly left the stage with a wave. We waited again – but not so quietly this time. Then lights down, deafening roars and the introductions. John Parish, Jean-Marc Butty and Mick Harvey all took their bows to the relief of me, at least. I was starting to wonder if we’d done something wrong. I don’t like Coventry much. Then three old songs for the encore; Meet Ze Monsta, Angeline and Silence.

Princess Lela

I loved seeing the new songs played live, they really suit a stage – but for me the most atmospheric songs were the two from White Chalk; The Devil and Silence. The rest of the audience seemed to much appreciate the older back-catalogue stuff, which got louder applause than the new, but I wasn’t so sure about the rearranged ‘Big Exit’. Maybe I just prefer it sassy but it sounded a bit peculiar.

It felt, overall, as if Polly was establishing a distance between herself and the audience. She was more like an apparition than a reality – appearing and disappearing beneath that spotlight with each song, remaining on the same spot the whole time – calling us to to hear her tale of woe. Kind of like Princess Leia’s hologram message in Star Wars – and with the same mesmerising effect.

SET LIST:
Let England Shake
The Words That Maketh Murder
All & Everyone
The Big Guns Called Me Back Again
Written on the Forehead
In The Dark Places
The Devil
The Sky Lit Up
The Glorious Land
The Last Living Rose
England
The Pocket Knife
Bitter Branches
Down By The Water
C’mon Billy
Hanging in the Wire
On Battleship Hill
Big Exit
The Colour of the Earth
ENCORE
Meet Ze Monsta
Angeline
Silence

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