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PJ Harvey mesmerizes at NYC’s Terminal 5

PJ Harvey and her band performed her new Let England Shake album in its entirety as well as some older gems at the second of two sold-out shows at New York City’s Terminal 5 on Wednesday, April 20th.
PJ Harvey performed the second of two sold-out shows at NYC’s Terminal 5 on Wednesday, April 20th.

PJ Harvey performed the second of two sold-out shows at NYC’s Terminal 5 on Wednesday, April 20th.

By John Curley 

When Polly Jean Harvey took the stage for her second of two sold-out performances at New York City’s Terminal 5 on Wednesday, April 20th, she was greeted with a massive roar from the crowd. What was striking about the set up before the performance even started was that Harvey was separated from her band on stage. Harvey was at extreme stage right while her very talented three-piece backing band was closer to stage left. Also striking was Harvey’s outfit. She was clad in a long, white, robe-like dress and a large black feathered headdress. She looked like a high priestess from a better, more interesting, and more thoughtful world. 

Harvey and her band began the performance with the title track from her latest album, Let England Shake. They would go on to perform all of the songs from the album during the show. Hearing the songs get a live airing gave me an even deeper appreciation of the album, which is among Harvey’s finest works and has received worldwide critical praise. The performances of “The Last Living Rose” “Hanging In The Wire,” and “In The Dark Places” from the new album were particularly good. In addition, “The Devil” and “Silence” from 2007’s White Chalk album sounded more robust when given the full band treatment than they did when Harvey performed them at her solo show in New York City in October 2007. 

Harvey and her band also threw in some older tunes for good measure. Of those songs, “Sky Lit Up,” “The River,” and “C’mon Billy” were very well received by the crowd. A reworked “Big Exit,” which featured Harvey on autoharp instead of the usual electric guitar, was quieter than the original version but every bit as stunning. 

The yelled requests for old stalwarts “Rid Of Me” and “Man-Size” went unfulfilled. In addition, Harvey didn’t play the fan favorite “Down By The Water,” which she had performed the night before. But those are minor quibbles. Harvey’s New York City concerts have shown her to be an artist who is at the top of her game. She is a remarkable talent, and a brave one at that, constantly changing styles. 

In addition to Polly Harvey (autoharp, guitar, and lead vocals), the band included Mick Harvey (keyboard, bass, and backing vocals), who is no relation to Polly Harvey, Jean-Marc Butty (drums), and longtime collaborator John Parish (keyboard, guitar, and backing vocals). 

While Harvey and her band put on a spectacular show, I believe that the audience would have been even better served had the concert taken place in a seated venue. Terminal 5 is not the greatest of venues, and it features standing room for most of the audience. The floor in front of the stage was absolutely packed, there was a lot of jostling, and quite a few people were talking during the quiet bits in the performance, which made it difficult to hear the lyrics. An introspective work like Let England Shake demands the audience’s full attention, but the setting for the show made that very difficult. 

Harvey and her band were on stage for 90 minutes, playing an 18-song main set and a three-song encore. This was the last show of a brief stop in America, which also included shows in San Francisco and at the Coachella Festival in Indio, CA. The tour resumes on May 25th in Lisbon, Portugal. 

The set list was as follows: 

Let England Shake
The Words That Maketh Murder
All And Everyone
The Guns Called Me Back Again
Written On The Forehead
In The Dark Places
The Devil
Sky Lit Up
The River
The Glorious Land
The Last Living Rose
Pocket Knife
Bitter Branches
On Battleship Hill
C’mon Billy
Hanging In The Wire
The Colour Of The Earth 

The Piano / Big Exit