PJ Harvey: New York Bowery Ballroom

PJ just keeps confidently belting out one memorably dramatic song after another...

Just as her lyrical scrapbook of New York City, ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’, sits at the top of every NYC music critic’s Top 10 List of 2000, Polly Jean Harvey blesses us with an evening in her company. The cue winds around the block of the sold-out Bowery Ballroom and those who are lucky enough to get in the venue are greeted with signs that read: “Polly requests that you please refrain from smoking in the auditorium.”

And that just seems to add to the quirky enigma that is PJ. As a critic’s darling in another year without a release from Liz Phair, she currently reigns as the queen of rock, combining all the glamour of Madonna and the brazen rock tendencies of Justine Frischmann. Not that anyone’s competing, but why can’t more female musicians pull it off as well as PJ?

Draped in a black gown with a white asymmetrical hem, and in black suede stiletto boots, Harvey truly knows how to rock in a gown -putting Courtney Love to shame – ranging from pummeling power chords on her black-and-white hard-bodied electric guitar to amplified whispery strums on her enormous shiny semi-acoustic. The 31-year-old Yeovil native looks innately cool with her slight frame commanding the mammoth instrument.

Backed by her four-piece band, she delivers a set very heavy on new songs, playing all but two tracks off ‘Stories…’, which only seems appropriate since the album was inspired by her six month stay in the city last year. Her strong delivery of each blistering song seems as powerfully moving as the last, but standouts include the beautifully lost ‘A Place Called Home’, a high-energy rendition of ‘The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore’ (complete with the album version’s Jacko-esque yelps from Ms. Harvey), her ardent challenge of sexual differences, ‘Man-Size’, and then a bold delivery of the ever-shocking ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’ during her first encore.

Though the crowd begs her to speak all night with screams like “Marry me!” (from a female) and “Stay in New York!” the paradoxical PJ just keeps confidently belting out one memorably dramatic song after another and then shyly sipping bottled water in between. Finally, before her last song, she says, “You’re very kind” before going into a Thom Yorke-less version of ‘This Mess We’re In’, a song that confirms the power this woman wields, what with getting the lyrically-ambiguous Yorke to sing about making love.

And then, seeming as shy as a schoolgirl after a piano recital, rather than a trailblazing songwriter and performer, she addresses the audience one last time before quickly disappearing off stage: “Thanks for making this a special evening for me.” And juding by the cheering that ensued, the audience seemed to agree: likewise, PJ.

Liza Ghorbani