Cardiff Coal Exchange

The fact that we can hear the heart that beats behind it that makes this all worthwhile...

For Polly Harvey tonight, you see, is supposed to be about the American Dream in all its gasoline-soaked, battered-leather glory – murderous pimps, dead-eyed junkies, and sordid couplings in crumbling New York dosshouses. But as ‘The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore’ wrings out its final strangulated chord, a bouquet lands onstage, right at Polly Harvey‘s feet. She’s disarmed. She’s blushing. She’d like to thank us all for coming. And she’s going to put these flowers right here, by the drumkit.

Oh, the backstage rumours might have it that Polly Harvey is in icy mood, but tonight – rounding off Cardiff‘s One Live, as personally requested by John Peel – there’s no indication that the mood is anything other than celebratory. Sure, much of forthcoming album ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’ flirts with the bleak nihilism of New York punk rock, but many of tonight’s renderings are lusty, wry, and fiercely human. [I]”I can’t believe life is so complex[/I],” sneers Harvey, on ‘This Is Love’ [I]”But I just want to sit here and watch you undress[/I]…”

There’s still the fair share of primal scream therapy, though; ‘Big Exit’ is a careening, discordant garage-punk thud, as confrontational as anything Polly‘s ever sung. Striding the stage like a caged animal, her voice undulates between a shrill banshee wail and an rough-throated Iggy snarl: [I]”Baby, baby, ain’t it true/ I’m immortal when I’m with you/ But I want a pistol/ In my hand”[/I]. Meanwhile, there’s a fair share of oldie-but-goodies: ‘Man-Size’ veers between fitful bursts of rage and tender, open-wound confessionals, and as encore, ‘Dry’ paints a cracked, painful melodrama.

The spell is a good one. But it’s the fact that we can hear the heart that beats behind it that makes this all worthwhile.
Louis Pattison