Live Review: PJ Harvey And John Parish

Live Review: PJ Harvey And John Parish

There's something quite terrifying - in a very good way - about Polly Jean's latest endeavour. Oxford Brookes University Student Union, Oxford, Thursday, April 16

Harvey is displaying the kind of behaviour tonight that begets marriage proposals from complete strangers, as well as terrified looks from old people on the bus. Frankly, it’s exactly what we need.

Bands and synth-popstrels alike are so inhibited these days that kookily twirling a wrist about like Tori Amos is sufficient to make folk think you’re a bit interesting, and that’s simply not good enough. We want a woman barking violently whenever the drummer brings his sticks down, just like Peej does tonight on a murderous ‘Pig Will Not’. Or a frontperson prowling the stage and, with a snarl more vicious than Nick Cave or Mark E Smith, demanding the “fucking ass” of a man with “chicken liver balls, little chicken liver balls”, as Polly leers

on ‘A Woman A Man Walked By’.

What a relief. Criticising PJ Harvey is akin to pissing on the Pope in the eyes of many. So, with one eye on the door, we can safely say that Parish and Harvey have turned a merely good record (‘A Woman A Man Walked By’), but one which is stilted by its isolated genesis – Parish pens the tunes, Harvey the lyrics and the woofs – into something that’s utterly spellbinding live. Playing from that and their 1996 album, ‘Dance Hall At Louse Point’, Parish and his band of older gents give a relaxed-looking Harvey the keys to the stage, as well as the freedom to converse with the music and let her instincts take over.

Entwining herself in Parish’s skronky, malevolent blues, his walloping, Pixies-like gutter rock and his lovely, ambient meanderings, high drama runs through serene, spot-lit passages such as ‘Soldier’,

the waltzing, music hall-inflected ‘Leaving California’ and the beautifully stark, droning ‘Cracks In The Canvas’. Even more so when Polly rises from the back of the stage on ‘Taut’ into a storm of squalling blues and yelps gleefully through a blistering and swampy ‘Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen’.

What really sticks, though, is the way that the same funny girl who ribs “Rod ‘The God’ Stewart” and says “thank you” more politely than a West Country vicar after her songs can turn on a dime, bare her teeth and primal scream so violently about our balls. Now, where did we put that ring?

Chris Parkin