Revention Music Center
April 29, 2017
It’s been a while since PJ Harvey has laid eyes on a Houston audience. Though the UK songstress has toured the U.S. as recently as 2011, her path hadn't come through Houston since 2001. That is, until Saturday night at Revention Center in support of her 2016 release, The Hope Six Demolition Project.
To say that this highly anticipated show was long overdue would be redundant in the least, and by the way she held the audience's attention, Harvey proves overdue shows may be the key to mesmerizing performances. That and a captivating musical auditory feast for hungry ears.
Houston is all too often passed over on national tours, so when it was announced Harvey would be stopping here, a certain anticipatory buzz seemed to move through local music social-media circles for good reason. PJ Harvey is a superlative musician like no other.
Saturday, she appeared onstage in some kind of Mohawk hairdo and a deep-purple dress with asymmetrical sleeves. Her delicate, long, white hands fluttered and swayed to her music, reaching out to the audience almost as if conducting. It was hard not to recall England’s old Sumptuary Laws that allowed only royalty to wear the color purple, and how fitting it was for her to choose that color for herself.
Harvey’s performance was undeniably magnetic; all eyes focused sharply on her every move. At one point, all spotlights turned crowdward in a blinding white light that seemed to last for more than a few verses. While it gave Harvey a moment to reverse that intensity of focus back to her listeners, it also cleverly shifted attention from the visage of Harvey and her huge band back to the music.
And there she was, orchestrating the entire experience just like that. Intimate, compelling and transcendent, the evening lasted 20 songs' worth of a woman possessed by music. There was no lag in her performance, no hiccups in sound or execution — only what seemed like a soulful spectacle of a woman with incredible command of her own voice.
Harvey’s voice translates into nothing less than a certain kind of holiness. Saturday, she was able to emit a note that seemed to expand to fill the entire venue, literally vibrating the walls without being loud or abrasive. Her ability to manipulate octaves effortlessly is one thing, but it’s quite another that she moves through styles as well. All in one song, Harvey could be a seducer, a songstress, a banshee and a witch casting a sonic spell over her audience.
Her mastery of songwriting extends to her performance, gorgeously. “To Bring You My Love” was but one example of how she communicates the ineffable emotions of deep love through music, at once interior, visceral and sexual without even the edge of vulgarity. She continues to defy classification because she remains in a category of her own. Playing a saxophone alongside the other woodwinds in her ten-piece band, Harvey commanded a certain level of participation not only from the audience and her bandmates, but from herself.
Yet, remarkably, not one moment about the show was really about her. She didn’t gush into the microphone, or act unusually guarded or, worse, disconnected — she introduced her band professionally and continued with the performance. This show was never about her or her celebrity, but the magic of music and its incredible power when played live.
And while any concert may have an important visual component, on Saturday Harvey’s music was paramount. Astoundingly adept whether in deep alto or soaring soprano, her vocal genius shone through onstage. And, for that, we can only hope that her star shines on the Bayou City again soon. Because 16 years was far too long an absence.
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Audience: Full of musicians and fans old enough to recall when PJ Harvey was a new artist.
Overheard in the Crowd: Absolutely nothing. This audience was rapt, hanging onto Harvey's every note, every move. How could they not?
Chain of Keys
Ministry of Defense
Community of Hope
The Orange Monkey
A Line in the Sand
Let England Shake
The Words that Maketh Murder
The Glorious Land
Written on the Forehead
To Talk To You
The Ministry of Social Affairs
50 ft. Queenie
Down By the Water
To Bring You My Love