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PJ Harvey & John Parish live

| June 18, 2009 | 0 Comments

Riviera, Chicago
Friday, June 12, 2009

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PJ Harvey has never shied away from the dark spaces. In fact, they almost seem to define her work. So it wasn’t at all unusual to find her singing “When you call out my name in rapture/I commit my soul to murder” during the opening moments of  Friday night’s show at the Riviera Theater.

And for the next 75 minutes, Harvey-along with her longtime collaborator John Parish-wound her way through dark musical alleyways and mercury heavy subject matter. With a barely there, blacker-than-sin slip of a dress contrasting against alabaster skin and ruby red, bee-stung lips, Harvey yelped, writhed, kneeled and squealed her way through a performance that was as much theater as it was rock and roll.

The material (save for “False Fire,” a solo Parish composition) performed was culled exclusively from the duo’s two collaborative efforts (the recently released A Woman A Man Walked By and Dance Hall At Louse Point, which was released 13(!) years ago) and it seemed to allow both parties to emerge even more untethered than usual. Parish shifted fluidly between guitar (“Black Hearted Love”), banjo (“Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen”) and ukulele (“Soldier”) while his band mates, resplendid in smart suits and Fedoras, filled the spaces with pinpoint accuracy and jazz inspired elasticity, depending on what was required of them at any given moment.

But as usual, eyes can never stray too far from Harvey. Always a magnetic onstage presence, see seemed fully invested in her goal of inhabiting the characters that populate her songs.  At points during her performance she dropped to her knees, looking skyward for a protagonists’ salvation (“Taut”), stood stoic and statuesque as mourner (“Cracks In The Canvass”) and morphed into a rabid dog of a woman who has become completely unhinged (“Pig Will Not”).

With each musical movement her voice dipped and rose, meeting the music’s intensity and quiet corners with the aplomb of a seasoned thespian. After each song, the music would fade in time with the stage lights, leaving a rapt audience wondering what supremely twisted locale would be visited in the set’s next act. 

Curt Baran

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Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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