Not Your Average Festival Headliner – PJ Harvey’s Dark And Brilliant Set Closes Field Day 2016

There’s a storm brewing over east London’s Victoria Park as PJ Harvey‘s band march on stage to close out this year’s edition of Field Day. The threat of yet more rain might not be what most of those gathered in front of the main stage are craving right now, but it’s a fittingly ominous setting for a set that’s largely made up of songs about war and human disaster.

The dark parade of ‘Chain Of Keys’, from Harvey’s recent ‘The Hope Six Demolition Project’, opens the set up, bringing near silence over the park. The next four songs also bring that record to life, transforming their observations of foreign lands into things to engage with. When in ‘The Community Of Hope’ Harvey cries “They’re gonna build a Walmart here”, it’s bellowed back at her, half joyous festival chant, half vitriolic statement.

For her first UK festival set of the year, Harvey chooses to largely ignore her older material. ‘Hope Six’ makes up the majority of the setlist, the doom-laden themes of those songs reinforced by tracks from the Mercury-winning ‘Let England Shake’. There’s just room for a handful of renditions from beyond this decade, including a caustic version of ’50ft Queenie’, in which the guitars growl like the thunder that seems about to erupt overhead and the musician stomps around the stage, raven black feather outfit shaking violently. ‘Down By The Water’ is softly menacing and ‘To Bring You My Love”s stuttering blues-y riff continues the mood of the set perfectly.

A haunting ‘River Anacostia’ finishes the set, ending with Harvey’s backing band’s vocals echoing out like aural spectres. Shortly, they return for a two-song encore that starts quietly, but still gloomily, with ‘Working For The Man’ and ends in the clattering drama of ‘A Perfect Day Elise’. Whether playing old songs or new, tonight is proof that Harvey is one of the world’s finest performers – commanding, contemplative and absolutely flawless.

Of course, Field Day is renowned for booking some of the best artists around – established and upcoming. Today is testament to that as Brian Jonestown Massacre build a set of spooling psych jams, interrupted only by frontman Anton Newcombe instructing the crowd to yell “pigfucker” in union on his count. Early in the afternoon, New York anti-folk hero Adam Green leaps, twirls and jitters across the main stage, wearing a matching velvet waistcoat and fez, playing songs from the soundtrack to his recent adaptation of Aladdin. In between, he and his backing band (French group Coming Soon) throw in a few crowdpleasers, like a cheery version of ‘Who’s Got The Crack?’ by his former band The Moldy Peaches, and ‘Jessica’, during which he pauses to rush through Bob Dylan‘s ‘I Threw It All Away’ with a kind of cheesy charm that only he could pull off.

Mystery Jets continue their resurgence around fifth album ‘Curve Of The Earth’, its soaring melodies and epic choruses causing the Return Of The Rural tent to feel like its about to lift off. ‘Midnight’s Mirror’ grinds on a louche bassline and crude synth line, while ‘Bubblegum’ flips things into giddy euphoria with a melody that zips along dizzyingly and a rousing chorus that may as well have been designed to be played at festivals.

Parquet Courts are in merry form as they take to the main stage early on in the afternoon. There’s quips a-plenty about the upcoming EU referendum and Euro 2016 violence (“We were in France last night, you should hear what they were saying about you”) and a nod to mid-naughties British indie as Austin Brown removes the braces keeping his trousers up. “I’m not in the fucking Libertines, I don’t know why I’m wearing suspenders”, he remarks. There’s also a scorching set of abrasive punk, from the likes of ‘Master Of My Craft’ and ‘Human Performance’ to superlative closer ‘Light Up Gold II’.

It’s Oscar and his band who are the day’s finest, bar Harvey, though only the few handfuls of people packed into the Jagermeister shed get to witness his radiant fun. From the skanking dub of ‘Be Good’ to ‘Breaking My Phone”s cathartic fury, there’s barely a second of his set that isn’t filled with pure joy. It’s only the heartache of sole ballad ‘Stay’ that threatens to burst that bubble, the Londoner briefly switching his permagrin to plea for a lover not to leave. The infectious whirring synths of ‘Sometimes’ wind things up, Oscar, his band and the crowd in front of him joining in a collective final bounce. Expect him to be way higher up the bill this time next year.