"She contorted herself, occasionally holding a saxophone aloft, like a baton for her faithful."
A new PJ Harvey tour usually promises a fresh set of instrumentation, a new perspective and a steadfast focus on new material over old. Her current tour in support of The Hope Six Demolition Project is no exception. In the case of her Adelaide show, Harvey's set came with the promise of a humid summer's night, an audience slick with sweat and the rumble of a storm overhead, all of which seemed somewhat fitting to the brooding, electric delights that she had in store.
The crack of a snare and boom of a bass drum heralded the dark march of Harvey and her ten merry men on stage; all multi-instrumentalists, all dressed in black, all very talented in their own right. Like any good musician, Harvey always had a knack for surrounding herself with those just as talented. Launching into Chain Of Keys from last year's The Hope Six Demolition Project, Harvey's voice soared over a restrained, inspired band, and the audience responded with a rousing cheer. A quick succession of songs from the same album, including The Ministry Of Defence and The Orange Monkey, were played with dramatic aplomb by both Harvey and band.
The Hope Six Demolition Project is very much an American companion piece to 2011's masterpiece Let England Shake, and Harvey favoured both albums over any nostalgia for her back catalogue. They folded seamlessly into one another - filled with screaming saxophones and marching band drumming, matched with the doomsday lyricism of political ills and the waste of human sacrifice.
Inspired, electric renditions of 50ft Queenie and To Bring You My Love were crowd favourites, but generally throughout the show rock guitars gave way to dark, melancholic brass and striking percussion. Harvey, for her part, delivered powerhouse vocals. She contorted herself, occasionally holding a saxophone aloft, like a baton for her faithful, and the crowd responded. Perhaps the only shortcoming of the show was that while every song was beautiful and precise, the performance never quite broke through the roof. Clarity may come at the cost of spirited abandon, but when the songs are this good, it's hard to be too critical.
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Harvey didn't bother with banter or stories - with the exception of introducing her band, including longtime collaborators Mick Harvey and John Parish, and a quiet "thank you", she was silent. It didn't matter; Harvey let the songs speak for her. Finishing the encore with The Last Living Rose, PJ Harvey once again proved herself as a wild icon of alternative music, her star undiminished by time.