This weekend has been tumultuous for Melburnians with unimaginable events on the streets of our city sparking political debate about the state of our justice system, while watching Donald Trump actually take the oval office. We then saw women, and men, take to the streets across the world to march for equality. Through it all we comforted each other with messages about fighting hate and demanding change. This weekend has been a cold reminder about the current state of our world, and PJ Harvey’s show at Melbourne’s Sidney Myer Music Bowl did more to confront than to comfort us.
A solemn opening kicked off the long-awaited show, the British songstress appearing amongst her all male, 9 piece marching band, her first appearance on stage resembling a slow ceremonial march rather than anything close to a jovial greeting for fans. And that decision to centre on the dramatics did not waiver for her entire performance.
Opening with ‘Chain of Keys’ off her new record The Hope Six Demolition Project, Harvey sets the scene for the evening. An unyielding drum beat never lost amongst the blur of the band, a constant reminder that this was a very, very serious performance. Never picking up a guitar, Harvey favours the saxophone throughout. She tends to use it more as a prop than an instrument, holding it high and giving her hands a break from the constant, pointed moves that underscore her more important, theatrical lyrical content.
The band is undoubtedly world class, their perfect individual precision perhaps not given enough room to breathe among the melodies that never quite came together to form an extended, cohesive song. Pretty guitar riffs and interesting tribal openers ultimately all gave way to the same thing, a rigid drum beat, an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink arrangement and a beautiful, floaty Harvey vocal.
The masses swayed along with the impeccably dressed, deadpan band on stage, not a single person uttering a word, forming a cult-like captivation. I saw not one fan singing along, yet at the end of every single song the masses erupted in applause, leaving me thinking I was just not “getting it.” Harvey seemed transfixed, not directly addressing the crowd until well into the second half, and only to introduce her band. Perhaps it was yet another flair of the dramatic I am failing to appreciate, but I was surprised to hear so little dialogue.
That said, Polly Jean can sing, and it’s ver vocals – and the many forms they take – that do the talking. The Bjork-Florence hybrid soaring over the chaotic melodies to hypnotise and enthral. While maybe not comfortable, the show was absolutely fascinating. The crowd’s adulation unwavering.
PJ Harvey’s Australian tour dates continue this week.
Gallery: PJ Harvey – Sydney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne 21/01/17 / Photos: Kylie Carns