Bridport Arts Centre

It's hard to find any chinks in [b]Polly[/b]'s armour tonight...

The Queen Of Darkness looks pale and withdrawn tonight. Huddled in shadow by the stage front, she nervously sips her beer, scanning the hall for fear of recognition.

That’ll be Beth Gibbons of [a]Portishead[/a], then, come to pay homage to Dorset’s original punk princess of heart-skewering psycho-blues. Except the Polly Harvey who strides out for this secret hometown showcase is no skeletal shrinking violet, no prickly parody of female beauty ideals, but a strapping rock’n’roll Amazon in spangled miniskirt, spike-heeled leather boots and Justine Frischmann [I]|ber[/I]fringe.

Here to give her imminent album ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’ an energetic seeing-to, Harvo seems serene and utterly self-assured. Perhaps it’s all an artful pose, maybe she’s not waving but drowning. But frankly, we reckon she’s been freebasing Viagra. Because tonight she is all woman, all rock, all night long. Baby.

New tunes from Poll‘s New York sojourn last year bristle with incongruous references to Brooklyn rooftops and Manhattan streets. But beyond mere namechecks, there is also a sassy urban bravado about these high-kicking anthems, like the warm blast of a subway vent or the low rumble of crosstown traffic. And Polly towers over it all like the Statue Of Liberty, no longer swept along by wayward emotional currents, but firmly in the driving seat of matt-black, supercharged stretch limos like ‘Big Exit’ or the splendidly titled ‘The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore’.

The trashed post-rock rhythms and spectral siren laments of ‘Is This Desire?’ seem to have been superseded too. Polly embraces mellifluous traditionalism more keenly than ever with the twangtastic ‘You Said Something’, a truly gorgeous alt-country waltz. And there is more than a hint of U2‘s measured sparkle to ‘A Place Called Home’, with its wide-eyed yearning for an inner land of comfort and joy. These are full bells-and-whistles songs, then, not malnourished fragments or deconstructed sketches.

And thus they bound confidently from throbbing verse to mighty chorus, spewing references to guns, sex, travel and lonesome highways. But this time the allusions to love don’t seem quite so unrequited, the lust feels gleeful rather than desolate – Jesus, the sense of carnal satisfaction coursing through ‘This Is Love’ is almost pornographic, while the tune itself is a balls-out metal mutha of spunk-fired abandon. Poll and her demure geetar-toting mates simply plug in and rock like bastards. Tonight, Matthew, I’m going to be Joan Jett. And Kim Gordon. And Polly Jean Harvey, rock bitch from Hell. In Dorset.

Likewise ‘Wicked Tongue’, a crackling electrical storm which pushes Jon Spencer-style junk-blues primitivism to the edge of brain-imploding Digital Hardcore dissonance. “The NOISE was as MUCH as I could BEAR!”, screams Polly, but she’s totally in control. Three tunes later, she’s back in ghostly ballad mode, gliding through the glacial piano ripples of ‘We Float’. But this is no vulnerable art-folk trifle, growing muscles as it uncoils, sprouting fangs as it shimmers. Ethereal as fuck.

It’s hard to find any chinks in Polly‘s armour tonight. Her solo reading of the slender Thom Yorke duet ‘This Mess We’re In’ clangs and lurches a little gracelessly. Some older tunes like the Latino psychobilly ‘Send His Love To Me’ are possibly superfluous, although a hobnailed ‘Man-Size’ and a cello-kissed ‘Dry’ easily redeem them.

And by the time Poll romps home with ‘Down By The Water’, Beth from [a]Portishead[/a] is screaming for more, waving her beer bottle aloft and dancing the lambada. Is it just spooky coincidence that the final four words on [a]Portishead[/a]’s last album were, [I]”This mess we’re in”[/I]? Hmmm. Never mind that for now. Because if born-again supervixen Polly can rock the Queen Of Darkness to her feet, imagine what she’ll do for the rest of us.