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Wednesday, November 22, 2023
PJ Harvey: Tiny Desk Concert
Polly Harvey has inhabited many characters throughout her 30-year career and always dressed the part: catsuit-rocking glam queen, high-collared Victorian wraith, mini-skirted libertine, feather-adorned warrior. Bringing the story told in her latest album, I Inside the Old Year Dying to the Tiny Desk, she stands at the microphone in a draped dress the wintry color of a gray alder tree, designed by her longtime costumier Todd Lynn. Its torn elegance perfectly suits the dual role she plays in these gently ferocious songs, which originated in her novel-in-verse, Orlam. As she lets loose her inimitable razor-sharp alto, she becomes both Ira-Abel, the child who, in the aftermath of an assault, merges with the forest around her Dorset, England, home, and of the bard whose verses keep that shepherd girl alive after her vanishing.
Harvey keeps her gestures minimal as she sets her scenes and speaks through them. Matching her voice to those of her trusted collaborators John Parish and James Johnston as they invoke the forest's ghosts — the "chalky children of evermore" — she lets the fecund imagery of her lyrics resonate. At times the crowd seems stunned into silence; after her lament for Ira-Abel, "A Noiseless Noise," concludes with the notes from her acoustic and Parish's electric guitar intertwining, she coolly waits out a gap before the applause and hoots of appreciation arrive.
This is where Harvey lives as a fully realized artist: on her own artistic plane, inviting listeners to take their time to fully join her. Ending with the heart-rendingly lonesome title track from 2007's White Chalk, she connects Ira-Abel's story to her lifelong project of expressiing women's solitude, pain and resistance. Exploring how human boundaries can shatter, reassert themselves or be rendered irrelevant, these songs create a contained space that echoes far beyond itself.
"I Inside the Old I Dying"
"A Noiseless Noise"
"A Child's Question, August"
"I Inside the Old Year Dying"
PJ Harvey: vocals, acoustic guitar
James Johnston: keys, acoustic guitar, violin, vocals
John Parish: electric guitar, drums, vocals