PJ Harvey & John Parish, Howe Gelb
Kerry Meech 18/04/2009
Tonight saw the triumphant return of one of music's most inventive and experimental musical partnerships, Polly Jean Harvey and John Parish. During the 12 year period between album collaborations, both have been busy pursuing projects which have demonstrated their tremendous ability to explore their artistic range. A Woman A Man Walked By is a stark reminder of this range and their artistic integrity, combining Polly's increasingly experimental vocal delivery with Parish's awe-inspiring guitar riffs. Indeed, the opening riff to Black Hearted Love is a fitting reintroduction to the PJ Harvey we all know and love. The piano playing Victorian seamstress of White Chalk has been locked in the attic for the time being, Polly's got a story to tell: 'I once knew a woman man, a courageous man I thought…he had chicken livered balls, he had chicken livered spleen…That woman man…I WANT HIS FUCKING ASS!'
Tracks from their first collaborative effort, Dance Hall at Louse Point make a welcome appearance. Taut sounds as demonic as it did all those moons ago, whilst Rope bridge crossing and Urn with Dead Flowers in a Drowned Pool serve as a reminder of the integral atmospheric qualities Parish's music still possesses 12 years on. Indeed, their music has not aged at all, although it would appear that its creators are starting to feel the first pangs of old age: 'I would have played maraca on that song but I have a maraca playing induced repetitive strain injury, so I tried to dance instead. Needless to say her adopted home crowd forgave her.
Throughout the night it is difficult not to sense an invisible intuitive bond between both Harvey and Parish. Even when Parish misses his cue on the unhinged Pig Will Not, causing Harvey to stop the song in order to give him a telling off in front of his fellow Bristolians, you know you are witnessing the kind of camaraderie which spans decades. Similarly, the manner by which Harvey can flip and switch between characters during songs is a sight to behold. Indeed many of the highlights of the night include her seeming more schizophrenic moments, such as, Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen when Harvey plays the part of a child playing hide and seek whilst her band call out for the mischievous Erika. Or during the title track of the LP, when Harvey's mask slipped for just a second during the line Lily livered little parts - well, it is a pretty unusual lyric.
Shimmying around the stage like The Addams Family's Morticia only clad in white, Polly struck an almost Orphean pose alongside her trilby topped accomplice. All of the band played like men possessed; part way through the otherworldly Cracks In The Canvas, the house lights inexplicably turned on causing Harvey to remark: 'I thought we had a moment of divine intervention during that one.' In fact, the whole the set felt like a moment of divine intervention. Welcome back Polly and John, please don't make us wait another 12 years.