PJ Harvey wants your fucking ass

PJ Harvey + John Parish | House of Blues, Boston | June 6, 2009
By CARLY CARIOLI  |  June 8, 2009

PJ_harvey_main-HOB
Photo by Kelly Davidson

PJ Harvey's two albums with John Parish are not her best work. (Go ahead and argue it, if you like.) The first, Dance Hall At Louse Point, was a surprise departure from her game-changing To Bring You My Love, an album that sold far less than Madonna records but packed as much cultural impact -- back when rock albums and cultural impact were still on speaking terms.

VIEW:  Video and photos of PJ Harvey performing at the House of Blues on June 6, 2009 . By Kelly Davidson
The second, out just recently, is more in keeping with the sparse, glancing artist she's become since her last great album, 2000's Stories From the City, Stories from the Sea. We're thumbnailing here, as a way of setting up the following equation: a night with PJ Harvey in which she plays from the only two hitless albums in her canon could have been a bit of a chore. Which, I'm guessing, is exactly the expectation she wanted her audience to bring when it walked through the door. The easier to take it by the throat.

Undestimating PJ Harvey is a fool's game: her voice is still matchless. Precise in all the right places, when it needs to be. Suddenly coarse when you least expect it. And the only vocal instrument, with the possible exception of Thom Yorke's, that makes art and science out of wrong notes. In the year of Auto-tune, Harvey can still rip your heart out with a line that is deliberately -- as an Idol judge might criticize it -- pitchy.

The surprise the other night at the House of Blues was that her finest moments were barely sung at all.

The PJ Harvey and John Parish band are middle-age incarnate, competing to see who can dress closest to Leonard Cohen and play most like Louisville indie-rock circa 1996. There's Eric Drew Feldman, playing funereal organ and piano. And Parish himself, playing slight theatrical variations melodies that were abstract to begin with.THen two guys with the kinds of names you only hire when you want to emphasize how much better Europeans are at art-rock than Americans: Jean-Marc Butty, with his playing-around-the-beat game on lock; a guitarist named Giovanni Ferrario playing elegant vexations and generally looking extremely Italian.

Harvey's become far less interested in singing songs than telling stories, and if you're into that sort of thing -- if your guts are vulnerable to a well-turned tale -- you ought to be wary of her. She'll change your whole fucking attitude in a note. The title track from "A Man A Woman Walked By" is all story -- a monologue – and also brings you back to that early, snarling PJ from "Rid of Me": "I want your fucking ass. I want your fucking ass. I want your FUCKING ASS."

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