Let The Royal Albert Hall Shake!
PJ Harvey - Live At The Royal Albert Hall

Let’s rewind back to February when I last saw PJ Harvey perform at the Troxy, showcasing the songs from her recently acclaimed album ‘Let England Shake’. The album itself was highly received and loved by the media and it seemed on that night it was dedicated fans, critics and her music confidantes who were at attendant. On the night no-one knew what to expect as it had been three years since PJ Harvey last embraced us with her presence, as the moment approached for PJ Harvey to come on stage, it was just herself and her every trusting musicians that she continuously collaborates with Mick Harvey, John Parish and Jean-Marc Butty. The night was affectionate, magical and focusing on songs from her album rather than performing a crowd pleaser. Unlike her previous gigs, when I can remember her rocking Somerset House looking very much the femme fatale rockstar, swaggering on stage with an electric guitar. She embraced the crowd with a new evolved image, sound and concept. No one left the Troxy disappointed that night. Who would have thought seven months later PJ Harvey would have quietly won the Mercury Prize for ‘Album of the Year’ again; it was only ten years ago (2001) exactly when she won it first time for her album ‘Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea’, this year beating a young, confident, generation of stars from Adele, Jessie J to James Blake.

Last night at the Royal Albert Hall, fitting for the Queen of UK rock, a national heritage venue that highlights artistry achievements; the setting couldn’t be anymore crowning for Polly Jean Harvey who was about to put on the performance of her career. This time to a mix audience of music industries, artists, curious heads, music buffs, old and now new fans; the atmosphere was filled with anticipation and suspense. The lights dimmed to almost complete darkness and PJ Harvey’s trusted band walked on stage dressed very much the West Country Englishmen, in double breasted dark grey coats, into a rapture of applaud. The very much shy PJ Harvey soon followed elegantly, dressed in a beautiful black crafted dress (at the Troxy she was in white) designed by her friend, wearing a black feathered constructed head piece and on this night she takes us back to Ole’ England, as she did that night at the Troxy.

Again, Harvey stood still holding her auto-harp against her chest, like a precious newborn, the spotlight directly flicks on to her and her band resides in the backdrop in the yellow dawn light, almost hypnotic. It is then that Harvey and her band kick into the song ‘The Words That Maketh Murder’ from her acclaimed, somewhat political Let England Shake album, which focuses and explores the nature of war, she sings hauntingly into the mist and it is when you see Harvey live that you remind yourself how incredible and versatile her voice is. As Harvey continues to sing exposing chilling encounters, which evoke the primitive imagination of England and war, exploiting tales of what soldiers ‘have seen and done’, herself, Mick and John chant ‘what if I take my problems to the United Nation?’ politely leaving the audience to form their own opinion on the consecution of war.

As the night unfolds, we are taken through her set list from The Glorious Land to The Last Living Rose, we are narrated through our homeland and a history of blood it has built up through the ages, citing Gallipoli to WWI. Harvey stands still for most of the night looking very much like a Black Swan, but for one song she dances very slight, delivering more of a performing arts piece. As the night delicately unfolds, Harvey leads us away from her Let England Shake set list and takes the audience back into time to some of well known and loved classics towards the end; starting with

Down By The River, White Chalk, C’mon Billy and the Big Exit; but still keeping the mood, sound and vocal style sincere and consistent in her Ole’ England manner. She selects a song from almost each album, albums that never fail to dismay. As the audience applaud and cry for more as she says goodbye, she exits the stage, teasing them for five minutes and returns to the spotlight to perform five more songs. From Angelene and ending with the echoing love song Silence, filling the auditorium with goose bumps as the black bird from her heart sings, leaving everyone in exact silence, as the Royal Albert Hall shakes with heartache. Some might consider the duration of her performance too still, but it was her stillness that transported you into her music. It comforts me that we still have a UK female artist/performer who has survived almost twenty years in the world of music commercialism and trends staying true to her art, never ‘selling out’ and always giving the next generation a run for their money. PJ Harvey last night became a British National Heritage.

Words by Cindy Sasha

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