PJ Harvey is a musician that fascinated me since I first saw the video for her hit “Down by the Water.” There was something in her smoky voice and movements that I couldn’t resist. Back then, being a fifteen-year-old gal with teenaged angst, I was very particular with female artists; I could count on one hand how many I dug and she was one of the few.
Fast forward to 2017; I was at Metropolis a good half an hour before the show waiting in the photo pit with the other photographers to finally see what she’s like in person. I could see the crowd at the sold-out show were just as anxious. I didn’t realize how strong her fan base was in Montreal until they had added another show due to demand, which she performed the night before.
Chatting with one of the photographers there the previous night, I learned that at one point the PA system blew and that made me more curious about what was to come. No PA blow-out this night though—just a crowd blowing up cheers! I also learned that the side bars downstairs were to be closed during her set, as she wanted quiet. The photo restrictions were interesting too, we were only allowed to be on one side of the stage and chatting with security I was told if PJ caught anyone walking across during the set, she’d stop the show (lest it was an emergency). She runs a tight ship, and that had me wanting to pick her brain on touring and etiquette, to name a few things.
With a bit of a late start, lights dimmed and the crowd roared. I loved the entrance with very simple lighting, band members entered one at a time in a marching band style procession. Leading the line, percussionists came on stage first, and PJ blended in playing her sax among them as they took their places. They were playing “Chain of Keys,” one of many played off her latest album released in 2016, The Hope Six Demolition Project.
The band were sophisticated-looking cats, all in nice suits. PJ wore a big feather boa draped around her neck, a simple tank top, and short skirt all in black. She and her nine-piece band just oozed class, and amongst the members were John Parish on guitar and backing vocals (who produced several of her albums including the most recent), multi-talented Alain Johannes and James Johnston on a variety of instruments, with James charming when he played the violin. Some other members were Kenrick Rowe, Mick Harvey, and Enrico Gabrielli, again, all playing a variety of tasks. After reading up on some of them, I was impressed with the line-up of seasoned and talented musicians, and it showed throughout the show with tight playing and crisp sound.
Continuing on after the opening track, they played more from the new album including “The Community of Hope” and “The Orange Monkey” before moving on to some older songs from the 2011 album Let England Shake. Starting with “A Line in the Sand,” they played four tracks from the album including the self-titled “Let England Shake.” The new album was played almost in its entirety, dotted with older tracks. About mid-way through the set, she spoke her first words to the crowd, saying “Bonjour Montréal!” and “Merci,” before introducing the band members with a charming accent. Of course, they played the aforementioned hit “Down by the Water” and the crowd erupted. Her movements were just as mysterious and fluid as in the video, which was hypnotic to absorb. But by far the highlight for me by far was seeing “To Bring You My Love” in the flesh, which they played right after. Goddamn, I love this haunting, dark track! I had goosebumps, seeing these two tracks back to back was a treat. They did play one “oldie” from the 1993 album Rid of Me titled “50ft Queenie” which proved to be the fastest song of the night.
They closed with “River Anacostia,” exiting the stage leaving the crowd chanting for more. Of course, they came back out to perform “Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln” and “The River” for the encore. Ending on a classy note, the band lined the stage accepting kudos from the crowd. She will always be mysterious to me but at least seeing her live solved the mystery that she’s incredible on stage. I’m so grateful for the chance to have seen her perform in the flesh.
Written and Photographed by Angie Radczenko
*edited by Danielle Kenedy