PJ Harvey: London Shepherd’s Bush Empire

PJ Harvey: London Shepherd's Bush Empire

PJ Harvey's first London date for nearly two years is a triumph...

It’s some entrance. The star of the show, glammed-up in a red sequinned dress and choker, trots on, armed only with her guitar, and launches into ’93’s scabrous tale of unholy obsession, ‘Rid Of Me’. Thank God the band take a minute or so to get ready or ‘This Wicked Tongue’ would be drowned out by a couple of thousand jaws hitting the floor. So Polly’s back in London then. And how we’ve missed her.

And she smiles a lot. The renewed confidence and zest for life apparent on last year’s ‘Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea’ LP shows no signs of abating – whatever it is (and she continues to claim the love songs on the album are not necessarily about her) we want some of it. They may be clouded in nihilistic New York punk cool, but the likes of ‘This Is Love’, ‘Good Fortune’ and a fragile, delicate ‘Horses In My Dreams’ betray a more human, lust-fuelled agenda. Just look at her. Someone’s made her happy.

So while we gladly share her joy, it’s heartening to note that she’s lost none of her capacity to unsettle, even if this does require looking back a few years on occasion. And tonight those who have followed her from the pony-tail-and-Doc-Martens days are treated to a sumptuous back catalogue banquet. Polly rushes through the violent melodrama of ‘Hair’ and ‘Man-Size’, a languid ‘Down By The Water’, and, best of all, a high-powered, ass-kickin’ ‘Sheela-Na-Gig’. She even brushes off a couple of tunes from the bleak electro-rock of ’98’s ‘Is This Desire?’ – a stark, stripped-down ‘Angelene’ and a celebratory, ragged romp through ‘The Sky Lit Up’ confirm that none of the chapters in the book, however awkward, remain closed.

Miss Polly Jean Harvey played every one of her many characters tonight – but, best of all, she was bloody brilliant at being herself.

Alan Woodhouse