Music review: PJ Harvey

Despite the deadening atmosphere of Hall 3 at the SECC, there was a palpable sense of occasion when the hugely respected Polly Jean Harvey processed on stage with her magnificent band of brooding brothers to the martial beat of a tom drum.

PJ Harvey at the SECC, Glasgow. Picture: Calum Buchan
PJ Harvey at the SECC, Glasgow. Picture: Calum Buchan

SECC, Glasgow ****

For this latest chapter of her shape-shifting career, she has returned to her original instrument, the saxophone, without neglecting her distinctive voice(s). In her current show, she plays the homesick soldier, the documentary observer, the vulnerable waif and the sultry siren with equal credibility, using all parts of her range and tone, from eerie falsetto to earthy alto.

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But it was what she was singing which really sent the chills down the spine. Her set was drawn predominantly from her two most recent albums, Let England Shake and The Hope Six Demolition Project, which concern her poetic response to conflicts of the recent and distant past. Yet her lament for “oh America, oh England” on The Glorious Land or The Last Living Rose’s ambivalent nostalgia for a bygone Britain felt spookily prescient.

Her soothsaying was atmospherically accompanied by the male voice Greek chorus commentary of her bandmates, including Bad Seeds Mick Harvey and James Johnston and longtime collaborator John Parish, plus occasional stunning jazz punk saxophone solos from Terry Edwards.

In this intense company, the catchy danse macabre of Let England Shake’s title track, grungey gothic blues of Down By The Water and cathartic stomp of 50ft Queenie became the light party relief.

Fiona Shepherd