Friday, August 19, 2016

PJ Harvey, August 19, 2016 at the Fonda

PJ Harvey has always been an interesting creature. Once she had some the pull from a quasi-hit in the alt-mid-’90s, she went from rough demo-level catharses to changing up her sound from the ground up with each album, which became an event unto themselves. This also led to some wholesale inconsistencies, sometimes just in alternating albums, and the moments of brilliance had to do a lot of work to make up for the lesser stuff. Still, in concert to present new stuff, she would pull in the older stuff to match it and somehow make it flow seamlessly, or at least put a new spin on material we’d gotten used to. She didn’t even have make a statement as an artist, she just did it. Still, lesser moments existed but with some rejigging weren’t an albatross in the modern shows if the new material didn’t drag them down on its own. Some of the albums took a while to come around to, and often they would work out anyway (save for the still-challenging Is This Desire?), but we were still waiting on The Hope Six Demolition Project. By the time for that show I still hadn’t found official word if that project was a side experiment or if it was an official album intended for the same level as the rest, with the attendant tour and all accompanying a full-on album release, and the fact that I had to wonder might say it all (or just take it for granted that it's all official). But every release gets its shows (at least in L.A.) and we probably would have gone anyway no matter what she was playing for. We’d had tickets for the next night at the Shrine well in advance but when Carla had a chance for the Fonda show that was announced just before, even trading a Friday night for a Thursday, we went for it (though she was playing much the same set each night, so the only big difference was the smaller and closer venue). Unfortunately, the show didn’t do anything more to sell the album/project but she had enough of the old stuff -- not being too much of an artiste to eschew the stuff the crowd might have known (and liked) more -- and reconfigured it to make it interesting for herself, if not us. In her habit of learning a new instrument and writing each new album with it, this was the one with the saxophone, which must have been ill-advised, even beyond its being out of style to the point of ironic/non-ironic ridiculousness, it at least was a way to change up her stuff. This was also the tour where she filled the stage with musicians, evidently to reach the sonic ranges she needed for the material, but it sure looked crowded up there. It might have been better to approach the material as a project instead of a release expecting the same respect that her other stuff has gotten, even the weird stuff, but as a show, even at worst it could be performance art that gets appreciation from what she’s given us for so long and how much we love her.  So, in total, a score for experimenting with the familiar (even trotting out that familiar alt-mid-’90s quasi-hit), but a failure in trying to make something moving from these experiments.

PJ Harvey’s set-list:
“Chain of Keys“
“The Ministry of Defence“
“The Community of Hope“
“The Orange Monkey“
A Line in the Sand“
“Let England Shake“
“The Words That Maketh Murder“
“The Glorious Land“
“When Under Ether“
“Dollar, Dollar“
“The Wheel“
“The Ministry of Social Affairs“
“50ft Queenie“
“Down by the Water“
“To Bring You My Love“
“River Anacostia“

“Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln“
“A Perfect Day Elise“

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